Canton, TX

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: May 13, 2022

Canton, the county seat of Van Zandt County, is on State highways 19 and 64 on the Mill Creek tributary of the Sabine River, fourteen miles southeast of Wills Point in the central part of the county. The site, originally in Henderson County, was surveyed as early as 1840 by a company of men under Dr. W. P. King. The community stands on the original survey of Jesse Stockwell, who arrived in the area at that time. No settlement was made until 1850, when the town was laid out and named by settlers moving from Old Canton in Smith County. The first district courthouse at Canton opened in 1850, and a post office, the county's fourth, was established in that year.

When the Texas and Pacific Railway built across the county in 1872, it missed Canton by ten miles, and citizens of Wills Point persuaded the county officials to move the county seat there. In the resulting dispute residents of Canton in 1877 went armed to Wills Point to get the records back, and the county judge wired Governor Richard B. Hubbard for aid. The Supreme Court of Texas finally decided in favor of Canton. Unwilling to use the railroad at Wills Point, Canton businessmen established Edgewood, ten miles to the northwest of town, and built an extension to the railroad at a siding formerly called Stevenson.

Property for the town's first school, Canton Academy, was acquired in 1853. Sid S. Johnson began publication of the Canton Weekly Times, the county's first newspaper, in 1860. A Grange was founded in 1876. James S. Hogg, who once served as Canton district attorney, was elected governor in 1880. By 1890 Canton had a population of 421, flour mills, sawmills, cotton gins, and a bank. Brick buildings were under construction by 1892, and a new brick courthouse was completed in 1894. Iron ore and anthracite coal were discovered in 1887 and 1891. By 1896 the town reached a population high of 800 and had several churches, a steam gristmill and gin, two weekly newspapers, three general stores and two hotels. But residents had dropped to 421 by 1904. Notorious bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow once lived briefly at the Dixie Hotel, built in 1915. Canton was incorporated in 1919 and elected a mayor and aldermen. Despite the Great Depression, development of the Van oilfield after 1929 brought further expansion, and a Public Works Administration project in the 1930s completed a new courthouse in the community. In 1933 area schools registered 500 White and twenty-eight Black students. The population reached 715 in 1940, but residents dwindled again after 1949. In the 1950s, local business included a sweet-potato curing plant, an ice factory, a concrete-tile factory, lumberyards, and a cotton gin. Expansion of the Canton city limits doubled its territory in the 1960s. In 1970 the community had a municipal lake with recreational facilities, seven churches, a school, a bank, a library, a newspaper, and eighty-six businesses. The population doubled between 1960 and 1970 from roughly 1,000 to 2,000, and reached nearly 3,000 by 1990. The population was 3,292 in 2000.

Canton is known for its First Monday or Hoss Monday trade day. According to various sources, the tradition began with district court meetings held on the first Monday of each month or with the monthly visit of neighbors in the Confederate times. The custom began with the swapping of surplus stock by barter and grew to include casual bargaining for or swapping of dogs, antiques, junk, and donkeys on a thirty-acre grounds. The Van Zandt County Fair and Rodeo and the Annual Bluegrass Festival take place in the community in August.

Francis Edward Abernethy, ed., Some Still Do: Essays on Texas Customs, Publications of the Texas Folklore Society 39 (Austin: Encino Press, 1975). Carol Barrington, "For Sale or Trade," Texas Highways, November 1986. Gayle Essary, "First Monday," Texas Co-op Power, October 1964. William Samuel Mills, History of Van Zandt County (Canton, Texas, 1950). Jack Raskopf, "Big Bargains in a Little Town," Texas Parade, November 1970. Van Zandt County History Book Committee, History of Van Zandt County (Dallas, 1984). Fain Williams, "First Monday," Texas Parade, June 1967. David Nelson Wren, Every First Monday: A History of Canton (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1973).

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

Diana J. Kleiner, “Canton, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 13, 2022

Currently Exists
Place Type
Town Fields
  • Has post office: Yes
  • Is Incorporated: Yes
Belongs to
  • Van Zandt County
  • Latitude: 32.55260490°
  • Longitude: -95.86482900°
Population Counts
People Year
583 1920
704 1930
715 1940
881 1950
1,114 1960
2,283 1970
2,845 1980
2,949 1990
3,292 2000
3,581 2010
4,015 2019