to the Ben Wheeler Community

of

Van Zandt County, Texas

Taken from Van Zandt County Texas Biographies 1848-1991 Vol. II. Thanks to Kitty Wheeler for the original information and for permission to use it on the web site. The information that is included in this document is transcribed portions of information that appear in the above referenced book. Additions, corrections, complaints and compliments concerning this page or any other page in this web site should be submitted to Betty Miller and Betty Phillips.

Ben Wheeler, Texas

Ben Wheeler is located eleven miles southeast of Canton on Fm. Rd. 279. This used to be State Hwy 64 before it was rerouted and also known as the Dixie Highway. It is said that the town was named for Benjamin F. Wheeler.

On 4 Aug 1862 during the Civil War, Benjamin Wheeler contracted to carry the mail beginning in Wood County, crossing the northwest part of Van Zandt County and into Kaufman County.

It is said that Benjamin Wheeler carried the mail from Tyler to Van Zandt County staying overnight occasionally in the town that would be named for him at the home of the first postmaster George W. Clough.

The businesses in Ben Wheeler were formed around a 200 foot square. In the middle of the square set a well. There was a shed over the well supported by wood posts. Hitching racks were there to tie the horses to, and troughs to fill from the old oaken bucket used to draw the water.

On Saturdays the people would come to town bringing their families in horse drawn wagons riding their horses, or walking. It was a time to visit, get their mail, buy their supplies, sell their goods, or if luck would have it make a good trade. In the summertime the square would be hard packed and as you would leave from anyone of the four corners the saying was "the sand was knee deep to a camel." In the winter or in a wet spring there was mud a plenty to deal with.

The old Moore store along with several others were located on the east side of the square. Mr. John Moore opposed moving the buildings, but was overruled by the vote of the people and five buildings were moved up to the well, a distance of 100 feet.

All that is left of the old well is a sunken place in the ground partially covered by a concrete slab at the front of Moore's Store on the north side.

sometime around 1890, the Alamo Institute was established by J. F. Davidson. It was operated by a Board of Directors and managed by a competent faculty. Located at Ben Wheeler, it advertised that the drainage was good and the place was free from the danger of malarial or miasmatic vapors. Located in a quiet little village where no intoxicants were sold, the people were cultured and hospitable and would welcome students into their homes and churches, Baptist and Methodist. Families in 1893-1894, would take boarders at $8 to $9 per month with everything furnished. Boys and girls were not allowed to board at the same place.

The faculty for 1893, listed three teachers, J. F. Davidson, J. M. Dean and William Finley.

Before a disastrous fire occurred in 1893, Ben Wheeler had seven stores, three gins and mills, boarding houses two churches, a drug store, and the Berry Resort Hotel. Most of the businesses were built back again.

In October 1899 the merchants of Ben Wheeler said that their business was on the increase. The cotton picking was about at an end and the gin at Ben Wheeler had baled 700 bales that season. The cane growers in the area were beginning to make syrup which they planned to sell at 50 cents a gallon.

That same month Dr. Tucker bought the C. L. Stanford farm, Mr. B. F. Sanders took charge of the drug store, and Javan Buchanan had rented his residence to Normal Webb. Drs. Castleberry and R. L. Gray were in the Alamo City that month and announced they would be moving to Ben Wheeler one week in October 1899.

In July 1900, A. J. Gulledge bought Mr. Cooper's half interest in the mill and gin, rev. Joiner was carrying on a meeting at the First Baptist Church assisted by Rev. John Hobbs; and the new brick kiln was in progress with nearly one hundred thousand brick already made.

In 1903, a reporter visiting Ben Wheeler had this to say: "There is no section of the country better developed than that around Ben Wheeler. It is the largest interior town in the county and it's people are straining every nerve to get a railroad."

Also in 1903, a letter was received by the Wills Point Chronicle that enclosed a map of the city that showed 28 gins, stores, and towns near Ben Wheeler that would contribute patronage to a rail road should it go there. Subscriptions to the amount of $12,000 had been secured and the writer of the letter thought that it could be raised to $15,000.

Sometime around 1915 or 1916, an exciting event took place on the square in Ben Wheeler. It was on a Saturday afternoon and a large crowd of men, women and anxious children watched with anticipation as several men prepared to launch a brownish colored balloon. Ropes were attached to it and six men were posed around the balloon, each holding a rope in his hands. A man built a fire, filled the balloon with hot air and as it began to inflate and rise from the ground, the men tightened their holds on the ropes. The hot air continued to fill until it looked as if it would burst. As the large balloon began to rise, gasps were heard from the crowd at the enormity of the object. Finally the man filling it gave a signal for the men to drop the ropes. The crowd gave a cheer and one poor man, Mr. Wilson, was so excited he forgot to turn loose of his rope. After rising about ten feet off the ground he, at the response to all the yells by the onlookers to "turn loose", released his grip on the rope and fell to the ground, shaken but unhurt.

Some of the early businesses not previously mentioned in Ben Wheeler were Charlie Gray's Drug Store, Jessee Bobbitt's Barber Shop, Fount Sanders' Saddle and Shoe Shop, a gin once owned by W. H. Dunn, John Moore's Grist Mill, Feed Mill and Pea Thresher, Morris and Castleberry's General merchandising Store, A. J. Humphries General Merchandising Store, the First State Bank established in 1911, with Oscar O. Morris, President, the two story building owned by the Masonic Lodge that had rented the downstairs to the post office, a two story hotel built originally for a home by a. J. Humphries and later turned into a hotel, and different grocery stores owned by the following: Leland Davidson, Lee Jones, and George Wood.

George Wood was an enterprising man. He purchased the smaller section of the "L" shaped old Alamo Institute and moved it onto the square. It had a grocery store in the bottom of it and a meeting place for a social order upstairs. He later tore it down and using the lumber built homes on the Martins Mill road. The other section of the "L" stood for many years.

There was also a movie theater in Ben Wheeler. The first one, owned by John Chandler was on a flat floor in the upper section of a two story building. John Moore bought it and had it renovated. The screen was raised and a stage was built in front of it. The sitting section was elevated and a person would enter the theater from the end where the screen was, climb the elevated aisle, choose his seat, turn around to be seated facing the theater.

Ben Wheeler had a lumber yard, a garage owned by J. A. Chandler and he later added gas pumps. There was the Howell Variety Store and the Mitchell Cafe.

Mr. Lee Jones, at one time, owned a cafe in Ben Wheeler and before there was a delivery service for bread, he would go to Tyler to pick up his bread for the cafe. people began to want to buy it from him so he sometimes would bring back 50 to 100 loaves. The grocery stores, seeing what a good business the sale of bread was, began to sent to Tyler for bread for the stores. Finally a bakery in Wills Point began to run the first bread delivery trucks to Ben Wheeler. A welcomed convenience.

The town of Ben Wheeler suffered many fires at different times through the years but always managed to rebuild and was for many years a sizable town.

There were two churches in Ben Wheeler in earlier days; the methodist and the Baptist. In the summertime these churches would hold meetings with people coming from the surrounding areas to attend and worship under the old brush arbors. Finally in the early 1920s, a Tabernacle was built on the school campus. It had a metal roof supported by wooden posts.

Both churches contributed to the expense and labor of building the Tabernacle and all the churches in the community would use it for their summer revival meetings.

Ben Wheeler no longer has a school as all the children are bussed to Van to attend school. Though not as large as it once was, nevertheless, there is still much pride in the memory of what it once was, as it is most apparent in talking with the people who are citizens of Ben Wheeler.

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