Tidbits of Shelby County History
East Hamilton, a mystery in the forest
This week’s article is a salute to the pioneer community of Hamilton/East Hamilton, with a brief history of the once prosperous and thriving town located on the banks of the Sabine River in the southeastern part of Shelby County. The information is taken from an article found in “The Champion” dated July 1, 1963.
From the time Texas won her independence from Mexico until the Civil War, Hamilton or East Hamilton was one of the principal shipping points of Shelby County. It is located on FM 2261 23 miles from Center, Texas.
The early history of Shelby County centers around East Hamilton. It was named for some early setters from Kentucky and Tennessee. At the establishment of the post office in 1847 the name was changed to East Hamilton as there was another town in the vicinity known as Hamilton.
John Latham settled there in 1817, receiving his land during the Homestead Act. Other early settlers at East Hamilton included Dr. Rains, Dan and John Brittain, John, Jim, and Polley Payne. Before the Civil War, when it was probably at its peak, the community had 4-6 stores, 1 saloon, 1 warehouse all owned by these four men. The warehouse was built along the riverbank, to receive the stores from the hold of the Neches Belle, a river boat that plied the Sabine River from the Gulf of Port Hamilton.Steamboats came regularly from Galveston and New Orleans.The smaller boats hauled passenger. This river activity kept East Hamilton alive until the early 1890’s when the river was clogged with sand and logs during a drought. Legends claim three steamboats piled up on the debris and sank near the townsite. The drought caused the Maude Howe to stick on a sand bar, just below the railroad crossing on the river; the Ader grounded in what was called “The Five Mile Bend” just east of Pauls Store; the Neches Belle grounded at East Hamilton. During the hard winters and freezes that followed the banks of the river caved in and made the river impassable for any kind of boat. Robbed of its river income, East Hamilton slowly died on the vine.
The first school was established there in 1825 and taught by Miss Mary Wilson. The first church was organized there in August 1829 by William Brittain. Mr. Brittain came to East Hamilton at an early age became a merchant and cotton buyer shipping his cotton down the Sabine To Orange, Texas. Although he was prosperous in his business, he was unhappy about the spiritual condition of that area. He spent most of his adult life teaching and preaching Christianity in the “Lawless No Man’s Land” of East Texas.
Some claim the first post office in Texas was at East Hamilton with Charles H. Alexander, the first postmaster in 1847. L.B. Palmer was the first mail carrier from Shelbyville to East Hamilton. Mr. Palmer also owned a Loom Factory at East Hamilton from 1870 to 1887. The last postmaster for East Hamilton was Drue R. Wiggins 1918-1926 when the office was discontinued. Some of the other postmasters were Dobson B. Myrick July 5, 1848, Francis H. Burt March 21, 1852, DanielBrittain Jul 27, 1852, Thomas M. Smith March 23, 1860, Miss Mary McGuire July 5, 1867, Daniel Brittain May 4, 1875, Warren Brittain January 30, 1884, Rod R. Wiggins Dec. 19, 1895, James W. McCall Dec. 10, 1902, Robert P. Smith April 12, 1903, Larkin C. Musgrove Nov. 27, 1905, Leo H. Wiggins Fe. 3, 1906, Henry J. Bennett June 8, 1908, Titus E. Middleton June 25, 1910, Alford B. Wiggins may 5, 1916,
In 1873 the first rock chimney was built in East Hamilton by Jim Payne. The rock was hewn from larger rocks and until this time mud chimneys had been used. F.B. Eddins operated a grist mill there in 1872, and that year there were only five houses between East Hamilton and Center.
The old town of East Hamilton’s demise was completed by 1969 when the Sabine River swelled from its sandy banks to form Toledo Bend Reservoir. The historic town now lies beneath its waters.