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WALLISVILLE, TX

WALLISVILLE, TEXAS. Wallisville is on Interstate Highway 10 and the east side of the Trinity River in northern Chambers County. The town served as the county seat from 1858 to 1908. In 1825 Elisha Henry Roberts Wallis settled his family at Wallis Hill, a site east of the original townsite. The captured Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna was held prisoner at the Wallis family home on December 1, 1836, en route to Washington, D.C. Solomon B. and Daniel B. Wallis, sons of the elder Wallis, had the townsite laid off in eighteen blocks in 1854. A post office was established there in 1857 with Albert G. van Pradelles as postmaster. The town was chosen over Anahuac as the county seat of the new Chambers County in 1858. Officials and merchants of both Wallisville and Liberty tried to attract the Texas and New Orleans Railroad in 1858, and the railroad opted for the Liberty route. Wallisville served as a principal steamboat landing on the Trinity River through 1877; there was also a brief resurgence in the Trinity trade during the 1890s. The town's chief industries from the 1850s to the time of the 1915 hurricane were lumbering and shipbuilding. The earliest sawmill was Union Mills, established by Robert Kilgore and a partner named Clark. A number of mills flourished around the 1880s, and William E. Stephens established a substantial mill in 1897. The largest sawmill to be established was the C. R. Cummings Lumber Company, founded in 1899, when Charles R. Cummings and his brother, Jesse, consolidated their two mills from Liberty and Anahuac and moved to the west side of the Trinity River at Wallisville. The mill was destroyed in the 1915 hurricane. Another mill was owned and operated by John W. Cook. Shipbuilding proved to be a steady industry at various times in the town's history. McLelland and Dunman turned out both steamboats and sailboats as early as 1855. Other shipyards followed, including one built by C. R. Cummings in 1901. The last shipbuilding enterprise came in the early 1940s, when Dunman Marine Services constructed the first steel boat to be built on the lower Trinity.

Arsonists destroyed the courthouse at Wallisville in 1875. A substantial brick courthouse was erected in 1886, and a distinctive jail and hanging tower followed in 1895. A Ladies' Aid Society raised funds to construct a Methodist church in 1895. Prior to that time Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and Presbyterian services were held in various locations, including the 1869 schoolhouse. An active Methodist church still met in the schoolhouse in 1988. Although black congregations, both Methodists and Baptists, met after the Civil War, only the Baptist church continued to operate in the late 1980s. The Age, which Dan H. McGary began publishing at Wallisville in 1897, was the first newspaper printed in Chambers County. Five other newspapers were published there during the first decade of the twentieth century. Other businesses developed: general merchandise stores, a saddle shop, a cotton gin, an ice cream parlor, a skating rink, a hotel, boarding houses, and a cobbler shop. A number of physicians and attorneys practiced in Wallisville. The Harvey Spur, a celebrated item on Southeast Texas ranges, was manufactured at Wallisville for many years. The townsite suffered extensive damage during the 1875 hurricane and was almost completely destroyed in the 1915 hurricane (see HURRICANES). After the passage of a stock law in 1906, businessmen in Anahuac campaigned for an election to make their town the county seat. Chambers County voters approved the move in 1907. Citing numerous irregularities in the election, Wallisville residents unsuccessfully fought the move in the courts. The county records were moved to Anahuac in August 1908. Efforts to construct a saltwater barrier or reservoir at Wallisville began in 1952, and a contract was signed in 1957 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Trinity River Authority, the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District, and the city of Houston to construct a reservoir. After the townsite was purchased by the federal government, work on the project began in 1966. Citing environmental concerns, federal judge Carl O. Bue, Jr., of Houston granted an injunction in 1974 that halted construction of the reservoir. A federal appeals court lifted the injunction in 1987, after the corps reduced the size of the proposed reservoir and made numerous other changes. Environmental groups continued their opposition to the project. The Wallisville Heritage Park was organized in 1979 and planned to rebuild the historic townsite. The Wallisville townsite was added to the National Register of Historic Places in Texas in 1982. The town had a population of 377 in 1990. In 2000 the population was 460.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jewel Horace Harry, A History of Chambers County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1940; rpt., Dallas: Taylor, 1981). James Wright Steely, comp., A Catalog of Texas Properties in the National Register of Historic Places (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, 1984).

Kevin Ladd

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kevin Ladd, "WALLISVILLE, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnw09), accessed November 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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