Tidbits of Shelby County History
Odds and Ends

This week’s Tidbits of Shelby County History will be taken from various articles written by Mattie Dellinger for the local newspaper.

Short Community
How did Short Community get its name? Short is a rural residential community located about a mile off U.S. Highway 96 and five miles south of Center in south central Shelby County. Settlement began in the area in 1870 when pioneer Elkanah Hughes homesteaded on his 160-acre preemption survey. More farmers moved into this region, conveniently located near the intersection of two major routes. A church and school were built in 1879. A post office opened on January 4, 1885, with Frank C. Powell as postmaster.The first name selected was Cross Roads because of several road crossings. However, the name was rejected by Federal officials because there already was a post office in Texas by that name.In 1890 the Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory reported Short had a population of thirty. Businesses included two general stores, a hotel, blacksmith, physician, barber, lawyer, and carpenter, and residents included the Hughes, Johnson, Roberts, and Mills families. By the late 1890s Short also had five grist mills and gins. The post office was discontinued on April 2, 1906, when mail was sent to Center, and by 1914 the school had consolidated with other regional schools. A Center attorney, Judge Dan Short, was handling the legal part for them. So, they selected his name for their new post office and community. The name was selected.

Aiken Community
Aiken is twelve miles from Center on State Highway 7 in southwestern Shelby County. The community was purportedly named after Herman Aiken. A post office that opened there in 1889 was described in 1890 as a "country post office." By 1892, however, the community had a sawmill, a blacksmith's shop, and a school. In 1896 the population was estimated at seventy-five, and two churches, a cotton gin, and a general store had been added to the earlier institutions. The post office was closed in 1909, but Aiken remained a church and school community for farmers in the area. By 1955 the school district had been consolidated with other districts.

Strong School
By 1949, Strong school in Shelby County was one of the largest rural schools in the county. Five other schools had consolidated with Strong including Ballard, Huxley, Dreka, and Liberty. The seven trustees in 1949 were Ed Hendricks, Bob Duncan, Emmitt Dean, Dan Scarber, Claude Fancher, Harry Still and Jesse Oates. The teachers that year were James E. Wise, superintendent; C.O. Hill, principal; Z.B. Crump, supervisor; June Gordon, W.S. Permenter, Annice Monroe, Bobby Lee, Hallie Crawford, Susan Bell Clifton and Alice O’Rear. W. J. McLeroy and Bennie Nix had been former superintendents of Strong School.

Deep Wells Located on Courtyard
According to pictures and articles there were several deep well on the 1885 courtyard. One may have been on the site where the former two-story fire department building was. (The fire house was erected in 1933 at a cost less than $1000 and was destroyed in late April or early May 2003). In Vol. 2 February 1889 Commissioners Minutes, this entry, “The account of J.J.E. Gibson for the sum of $48.73 for material furnished and curbing well on courtyard after being examined and approved and draft ordered to issue same.” Then in the same volume on page 17: “Feb. 18, 1889, …. Ordered that the citizens of Center may erect water works on the public square at any point they may select, provided that said water works are not erected immediately in front of either entrance to courthouse.” 

Cotton Gins
About the time that East Texas settlers began cotton cultivation in the 1820s, John Sprowl, John Cartwright, Elisha Roberts, and John A. Williams each erected cotton gins near San Augustine and Shelby County. Cartwright, a blacksmith and a carpenter, erected several of the first East Texas gins, and some claim he erected the first gin in Texas. That was just a few short years after Eli Whitney patented his cotton gin. By 1914 there were over 4000 gins in Texas and by 1976 the number of gins in Texas had dropped to 900. Wonder how many cotton gins are in Texas now?

Gin manufacturing occurred in East Texas for two reasons: cotton production in the area made a local market, and the forests provided ample lumber for the construction of individual cotton gins, or "gin stands." Gin stands were placed on the raised floor of a two-story, frame gin house. In the open space beneath the ginning floor, horses or mules harnessed to levers walked in circles, turning a large horizontal drive wheel. A bevel gear connected the drive wheel to a vertical pulley wheel. A leather belt on the pulley passed through the floor and attached to a smaller pulley on the gin stand that turned the saw and brush shafts, thus ginning the cotton.

Big Ditch

The information about the Big Ditch of Shelby County came from an article written by Mattie Dellinger in her Mattie’s Corner for the local newspaper. I was sharing the article as written by Mattie.

“These are the facts as told to us by folks who were living when it happened. Mrs. Woodrow Foster, the former Lorene Hughes knows quite a bit, as her father lived in the area when the ditch was formed during a heavy rainstorm. The site is located on State Hwy 7 West and FM 711 and is about 4.5 miles from Center.

One night in June 1901, a big flood rained down on Shelby County and washed out the 100-foot-deep ditch about 100 feet long. The land was in cultivation at the time, and it has been told that a plow and farm tools has been left at the site to resume work the next day They were lost and never found.

A public road between Shot and Providence crossed this very spot, where there had not been even a small gully or ditch.

A doctor was making a house call in the area that night and had to spend that night and part of the next day until he could find a way to get back across to the other side.

The washout scared everybody and to this day no one has been able to determine what caused it.The property was owned at that time by John Hays, father of Grady Hayes and scared Mr. Hayes so much he sold the property and moved into Center immediately.”