Cheapside Ghost Town | Gonzales Co. (formerly Dewitt Co.), Texas | P.O. founded c. 1882
Once a thriving community and commercial center for cotton, only a church and the crumbling remnants of the former settlement remain here in this ghost town in south-central Texas. The first European credited with settling here is George Lord, who immigrated to Canada from England in the 1830s when he was 18. He worked for several months on Mississippi steamers and on December 27, 1836, he joined a company of 75 volunteers under Captain Lyons for service in Texas.
While fighting for the Republic of Texas Army in Mexico, George Lord was captured by Mexican troops during the Mier Expedition. The captured soldiers were marched to Mexico City, where 1 in 10 of them was executed. Lord was spared his life, and later, went to California during the Gold Rush of the late 1840s. After striking it rich there, he returned to Texas and purchased some 8,000 acres of rolling prairie, including the land that would become Cheapside.
Over the following decade, a wave of other families migrated here, including the Preston Family from Georgia and Thomas Baker, from Natchez, Mississippi, who built a log cabin here in 1857. As more people moved to the area, the town took form and in 1880, Thomas Carter, a shopkeeper, drew up town lots that were drawn to be 90 feet wide.
On June 5, 1882, a post office was established here and Dr. E.R. Henry, a local physician from Cheapside, Virginia, named the settlement. The residents of Cheapside lived and breathed by Texas’ agricultural economy, based heavily on cotton, livestock, poultry, and grain and in 1889, E.F. Elder built the first cotton gin and gristmill here.
As the population of the town rose to 150 in 1904, the commercial district grew to include three grocery stores, a drug store, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop, a broom factory, and at least two saloons, along with a resident deputy sheriff to keep order. Cheapside also had Masonic and Woodsmen of the World meeting halls. There were several doctors and a daily stagecoach, and the town fielded a baseball team that played weekends, with rodeo events between games.
Before electricity, locals would salt and smoke their meats to preserve them. Mechanical power first came to local stores in 1925 when an AC Delco plant was installed (a 32-volt gas-powered system). In 1939, rural electrification came to the community to power homes as well.
Churches and Schools At Cheapside
In 1874, The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized nearby at Bellevue and later moved to Cheapside. The Cheapside Baptist Church was organized in 1893.
From 1890 to 1913, A.T. Young ran a private school on Fulcher Creek. Once Fulcher’s private school closed, the community applied for a school for white children called the Cheapside School. During its heyday, grades 1-9 were offered, and between 120-135 students attended, instructed by 3 teachers.
Agricultural Shifts Hit Cheapside
From the turn of the century, Cheapside experienced steady growth in population until an unexpected insect, a beetle called the boll weevil, showed up. Resistant to conventional insecticides, these beetles feed on the tender growth of young cotton plants. The boll weevil migrated across the Rio Grande and by 1903, it covered all of eastern Texas. In 1904 an estimated 700,000 bales were lost to the boll weevil, at a cost of $42 million.
By the 1920s, cotton crops were completely decimated just as The Great Depression took hold and the Cheapside Cotton gin was closed by 1940. This devastated local cotton farmers who had borrowed money from the bank against the cotton held in storage. When the price dropped to 2 cents per pound, most of them wouldn’t recover financially, while some reportedly went the way of bootlegging moonshine to pay their bills. Most of the farmland reverted to open pasture but by the 1930s, all the fields were shot because cotton had depleted the soil. According to Gonzales County historian, Genevieve Vollentine said: “The land was just worn out. We once had virgin soil, but there was no soil conservation and it just killed the farming.”
A Community Changed Forever
During the 1930s, the economy was in collapse as another World War was on the horizon. Drastic shifts were taking hold worldwide from which Cheapside would not recover. Families sent their sons off to war and many didn’t return. For the servicemen who did make it back, it was difficult to return to rural America after having seen the world.
The war effort created work in the cities, television promoted consumerism, and cars fueled the growth of suburbs and midsize regional centers like Gonzales and Cuero, where services and jobs consolidated. Places like Cheapside were casualties of an upwardly mobile society. “Pretty soon everybody was gone. By the end of World War II, the houses were abandoned.”
Decreases in enrollment reduced the school to a one-teacher school in 1941. By 1949, there were only eight students remaining, and the school at Cheapside was consolidated with Cuero School District. The 1950s brought droughts that dried up the cow pastures.
By 1960, only one commercial business remained in Cheapside-a small grocery store operated by Joe Watson, who had purchased it from Earl L. Freeman in 1958. A fourth-class postal service occupied part of the store and helped it to survive. Joe Watson and his wife Luella, the postmistress, operated the store and post office for 30 years.
Memories of Old Cheapside
Garlan Weber spent a good amount of his childhood in Cheapside and shared some of his memories of the town, “my uncle had a one-stop-shop in the town; it was a butcher shop, a meat market, a gas station, and a post office. Every morning, men of the town would gather at the store and chat. For a while, there were a lot of customers that came in from Houston to buy meat from the meat market in Cheapside,” Weber, said. “Grass-fed beef was popular then, as it is now. And people would drive in from Houston for that beef.”
Weber’s Uncle Earl and Aunt Eula Freeman lived across the street from the store. The backyard of the home had sand, Weber said, and his Aunt Eula would sweep the sand every day. She also had several rose bushes and a large tree in her backyard where Weber would spend hours playing.
Former resident, Marge Kacir, grew up in Cheapside and has pleasant memories of growing up in a rural town. She remembered the two maids, Hattie and Mary Woods, of one of the homes in the town, and how the maids would call the town store whenever they needed an item for cooking, and the item would be ready for pickup that day. “That was the way the town was – everyone looked out for each other,” Kacir said.
From 1972 to the late 1980s, only 31 permanent residents claimed Cheapside as their home. By February 1989, the Freeman-Watson store closed, and the post office with it. In 1990 the interdenominational Cheapside Community Church still held services every Sunday. The old schoolhouse was converted into Cheapside Community Center and has been the site of frequent showers, suppers, and post-funeral gatherings.
The People of Cheapside
Today, there are only 4 residents who live on ranches surrounding the town. But at one point, 150 people called this place home, so I spent some time researching as many of them as I could find to share a glimpse of what this town once was.
The Lord Family
George Lord (1816-1895) was a soldier and rancher, born in Essex County, England, on April 21, 1816. His father, a brick mason, died in an accident while repairing a hot oven. His mother remarried but died later in London. In June 1834 George Lord moved to Canada, and two years later he was in New Orleans, where he worked for several months on Mississippi steamers. On December 27, 1836, he joined a company of 75 volunteers under Captain Lyons for service in Texas. After the war, he went to California during the Gold Rush and made a small fortune for himself before returning to Texas. George Lord received 1,280 acres of land from Texas for military service in the Republic of Texas and expanded his land-owning with additional acreage that he purchased with his mining profits. He raised longhorn cattle under the “diamond-and-a-half” brand on the ranch he established a ranch at Cheapside in DeWitt County. Lord died on February 23, 1895, and was buried in the Bellevue Cemetery at Cheapside.
The Preston Family
Sarah Ann Elder Preston (1832-1889) Wife of Leonidas Archibald (L.A.) Preston. Sarah and her husband L.A. Preston came from Walton County, Georgia shortly after they married in 1848. They raised a large family in Cheapside, Texas.
The Schroeder Family
Johanna Charlotte Dorathea Bode was born on 26 October 26, 1834, in the Lueneberg Province of Hannover, Germany. Doretta, as she was called, married Heinrich “Nicolaus” Schroeder prior 1867. Heinrich Nicolaus, who was called by his middle name, was born on June 6, 1834, in the Wendewisch Province of Hannover, Germany. Doretta and Nicolaus had 5 children together in Hanover Germany before they immigrated- arriving at the Port of Galveston in 1879. By 1891, they were settled at Cheapside, Texas but Nicolaus died there a few months later. Doretta passed away in 1902 but their children continued on here, opening the Schroeder Store that operated for years. Their daughter, Minna, met and married her husband at Cheapside.
Minna Schroeder was born on January 29, 1877, in Hannover, Lower Saxony, Germany to Doretta and Nicolaus Schroeder. Soon after, she came with her parents and siblings to Texas, and eventually, they settled at Cheapside. Otto Fredrick Turk was born on April 5, 1872, in Germany. On December 4, 1896, Minna married Otto Fredrick Turk in Gonzales County, Texas. The young couple only had one child during their marriage when Minna died on April 7, 1906, in Cheapside, Texas. She was only 29.
The Terry Family
Bailey Payton Terry, Sr. was born in DeKalb County, Tennessee in 1850, but moved with his family to Cheapside by 1860. After the Civil War, Bailey had to help support the family in the management of the farm and alongside his father, improved 500 acres on the old homestead. He eventually owned one of the most successful sheep farms in the area.
Mary Elizabeth Placker was born on March 12, 1852, in Arkansas. On February 10th, 1875, Mary and Bailey married in Dewitt County, Texas. They had at least 8 children that they raised together in Cheapside and also ran the first post office at Cheapside from their home.
In spite of his busy career, Mr. Terry was also involved in politics and was a regular attendant at both county and state conventions. For 30 years, the elections for his precinct were held in his old shop.
The Frisbie Family
A sad story from the early 1900s emerged as I researched this community. Around 1903, a flu epidemic swept through Cheapside and claimed the lives of many residents- some of whom were children. I came across this photo of Heye Frisbie, taken in 1903 as he poses with a sample tombstone. Four of his brothers and a sister died-Alphonse, Major, Wilson, and Virginia in 1903 and another sister in 1904. This picture was made at the time when the family was looking for grave markers to memorialize them.
The Power Family
Benjamin was born in Cheapside in 1859, a third-generation Texan. Henrietta was born in Boone, Missouri in 1864 and in the 1870s, relocated to Texas with her family, and in 1881, she married Benjamin Power. Henrietta died following the birth of their fifth daughter, Nettie, on July 26, 1888. Their first two girls had died as infants. Pictured with their parents are Ethel and Malinda Maud. Ben remarried in 1890 and had nine more children. He died of pneumonia at his home in 1917. In addition to raising his surviving three daughters, she bore him nine more children and continued.