If Jesse Bartlett were alive today, no doubt he'd be a real estate developer.
He was a surveyor in Illinois in the late 1820's, and possibly in Tennessee before then,
and he continued his profession after settling in Texas in late 1831.
Not long before his death in 1838, he founded the town of Warren, Texas
on the west bank of the Brazos River in Washington County.
The following article, by Judy and Nath Winfield, of Chappell Hill, Texas,
appeared in The Chappell Hill Historical Society Review, vol. II, pp. 7-14 (1996).
It is copyrighted, and it's made available here by the kind permission of the Winfields.
Supernumerals, bracketed material, and source notes are as in the original.
FORGOTTEN TOWNS ALONG THE BRAZOS
PART ONE: WARREN
During the nineteenth century, small towns sprouted like mushrooms all across Washington County. In her seminal history of the county, Mrs. R. E. Pennington lists several that are no longer shown on county maps, and the list is by no means complete. What prompted this urge to gather together, to attract within the boundaries of a town the farmers who flocked to the promise of cheap, fertile land, and the doctors, lawyers and merchants who followed them? Who were the entrepreneurs who staked off lots and platted the streets, and how did they choose the sites for their budding metropolises? The location of these forgotten hamlets provides a clue. Find an ancient crossing on the Brazos River where some enterprising pioneer established a ferry and you will generally find a town, or at least the memory of one. Crossing the Brazos was always a risky experience, and the safety of the west bank was a good place to pause and ponder one's future. The intersection of two well-traveled roads was another likely site for a settlement, as was the neighborhood around a spring of pure, clear water.
As for the names, there must have been immense satisfaction in founding a town and naming it for one's self, or for some personal hero. The thought occurs to all of us: will we be remembered a century from now? Or even next month? Realistically, the answer is, probably not. Most of us will have to be content with monuments even less enduring than that of Shelley's Ozymandias. Our not-too-remote forebears, however, had an option not readily available to us today. With title to a few acres of land, a little vision and a conscience elastic enough allow for considerable hyperbole in advertising, they could found a town.
Not that personal hubris was responsible for the names of all of the towns that flourished in Washington County during the last century. Far from it. Some bear names that intrigue even the casual historian. William Penn, for example, up on Hidalgo Bluff. Was it christened by a group of homesick Pennsylvanians, or was it named for the sidewheel steamboat William Penn that was trapped in the autumn of 1851 by a falling Brazos, just below where the town is located? And what of Wonder Hill? What was the "wonder" that inspired its name? A solar eclipse? An unidentified flying object? Or something as mundane but as wonderfully welcome as a bumper crop of cotton? We may never know for certain.
One of these long-abandoned towns, the origin of whose name seems destined to remain a mystery, once occupied the west bank of the Brazos River at a point below the mouth of New Year's Creek, where U.S. Highway 290 now crosses the river. Mrs. Pennington, usually a reliable source of local history, states that "Lots were laid off for a town in a settlement known as Warren, at the mouth of New Year's Creek, but as there were few buyers, the plan of making a city was soon abandoned, and the land reverted to the original owner, who was named Warren."1 Read carefully, Mrs. Pennington seems to be saying that a settlement existed prior to the time lots were laid off. True, in a sense. The problem being that the tract was never owned by anyone named Warren. The town's origin is easily documented.
On August 19, 1824, Samuel Miller, one of Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists, was granted a league of land on the west bank of the Brazos River at New Year's Creek by the Mexican government.2 There is nothing to indicate that he made any effort to improve the tract; certainly he never attempted to start a town. He sold it, 64 acres to James Kiggans3 and, on August 29, 1837, he transferred title to the rest of the league to Jesse Bartlett for $700.00. There was no mention of a town or a ferry in either of these transactions.4
Jesse Bartlett was born in Knox County, Tennessee, on December 5, 1791. On September 7, 1810, he married Miss Frances Calloway, by whom he had twelve children.5 The family moved first to Illinois and then to Texas. An entry in Stephen F. Austin's application book, made on June 18, 1831, lists Jesse Bartlett, age 34, his wife, Frances and six male and four female children.6 Bartlett found ready employment in Texas. He was a surveyor, one of a handful of men who were employed in that capacity in the various colonies and districts of the State of Coahuila and Texas. These early surveyors were in a position to acquire immense tracts of land, since all of the raw land granted to the colonists had to be located, surveyed and the metes and bounds recorded. It was a common practice to pay the surveyor by awarding him title to part of the grant.7
Bartlett rapidly arose to a position of some importance in Texas. In 1835, he was a delegate from the Austin jurisdiction when they met to discuss the "state of the country,"8 and he was with Houston at San Jacinto, where he served on the baggage detail.9 He had evidently established residence in Washington County, but was mentioned by Dr. Charles Bellinger Stewart as being with his family "...on Trinity [River] in Camp, May 8 or 6, 1836," where two of the children required medical attention.10 It is possible that Frances and the children had left home during the Runaway Scrape and had been joined by Jesse after Santa Anna's defeat.
According to family records, Jesse Bartlett died in Washington County on February 1, 1838, but the site of his interment is unknown.11 At the time of his death, an inventory of his real and personal property included: a compass and surveying instruments valued at twenty dollars, three thousand acres of land, house, plantation and improvements and 6/16ths of the Town of Warren, valued at $1,650.00. The town consisted of 730 acres, more or less, and the remaining acreage adjoined the town tract.12
Apparently lots were being sold in Warren, since on August 8, 1838, John Hughes mortgaged to John Hall for $256.00 "...my unfinished dwelling house, kitchen and blacksmith shop in the Town of Warren."13 On June 17, 1839, the Telegraph and Texas Register, a Houston newspaper, advised its readers that: "J. W. Crawford, in the town of Warren on the Brazos, ...has also cleared [?] the Ferry at the mouth of New Year's Creek, repaired the boat, and dug down the banks, and will keep a steady ferryman always at the place. Travelers from Houston, San Augustine, Cincinnati and Montgomery will find that to cross the Brazos at Warren is the best and nearest route to Austin, Bastrop and LaGrange."14 Dr. James W. Crawford was the son-in-law of Jesse Bartlett, the husband of Nancy Bartlett, and if his ferryboat needed repairs, it must have been in use for some time.
From the above, it seems obvious that Warren was founded by Jesse Bartlett, sometime between August of 1837, when he bought the property, and February, 1838, when he died and his property was inventoried.
Under the heading "New Road to Austin," dated July 1, 1840, another Houston newspaper, the Morning Star, reported: "A survey has recently been made by the Brazos and Houston Rail-road Company, of a road from this city to the Brazos, and a new road has been marked out, which it is said is superior to any route hitherto traveled. The road runs upon the ridge of land dividing the waters running into Buffalo Bayou and those of the San Jacinto, and is mostly over a dry prairie. It strikes the Brazos just above the town of Warren, from this point to Austin a route has been laid out over the high ridge dividing the waters of the Yegua and New Year's Creek and the small tributaries of the Colorado in the west. The distance from Houston to the Brazos by this route is 53 miles; and from thence to Austin about 90 miles. As the streams on this route are all small and scarcely afford any obstruction to the teamster, and the land throughout the whole distance is elevated and firm, it is probably that it will, in a few months hence, become the main line of travel between the two cities. The Company have established a free ferry on the Brazos, and there is an excellent tavern at that place."15
Although there is no mention of the Brazos and Houston Rail-road Company in either Gammel's Laws of Texas or Reed's A History of Texas Railroads, the Houston and Brazos Rail Road Company was granted a charter on January 26, 1839, and a contract to construct the first ten miles was signed on May 6, 1840. Apparently, no work was ever done and the project was abandoned.16 The proposed point of entry into Washington County, "just above the town of Warren" begs the question of why a railroad would choose to cross the Brazos just above the mouth of a sizeable tributary, New Year's Creek, which would entail the added expense of another bridge. The "excellent tavern" was almost certainly at Warren, where the "Travelers' Rest" was said to have served thirsty patrons for many years.17
In December, 1836, the Legislature of the Republic of Texas approved an act authorizing and requiring county courts to "...regulate roads, appoint overseers, and establish ferries." Unfortunately, the early records of the Washington County court are missing, but in the January, 1842 term, the commissioners set the following rates for the ferry kept at Warren:
Loaded waggon and four horses or oxen............................. $1.50
2 hors [sic] or one waggon..................................................... 1.00
Hors [sic] and gig..................................................................... 1.00
Cart and yoke of oxen.............................................................. .75
Man and horse.......................................................................... .25
Horse or man............................................................................. .12½18
As previously noted, the inventory of Jesse Bartlett's estate, ordered by the court after his death in 1838, listed a 6/16 share in the town of Warren. In 1849, however, when the property was finally divided among the heirs, it was stated that "About 700 acres were laid off into town lots [presumably by Jesse Bartlett] and was called the town of Warren, but still belong to the heirs of Jesse Bartlett." These heirs were identified as follows: Nancy Crawford and husband Joseph W. Crawford of Washington County, Eliza McFaddin and husband Nathan A. McFaddin of Washington County, Joseph C. Bartlett of Navarro County, Clementina Millet and husband Samuel Millet of Comal County, Marshall Bartlett of Navarro County, Louisa Winkler and husband [C. M.] Winkler of Navarro County, Emeline Porter and husband Robert H. Porter of Navarro County and Lucian Bartlett, a minor, who lived in Red River County. Each of the heirs received 92 1/2 acres of the Warren Town tract. The remainder of the estate was also divided equally among them.19
Almost immediately after receiving their inheritance, all of the heirs except Lucian sold their interests to a group of developers composed of James H. Cocke, Henry B. Martin, James W. McDade, John B. Banks, William D. Hargrove, John B. Wilkins, Jacob Haller, Asa M. Lewis, Richard J. Swearingen, William Keesee and the aforementioned Lucian Bartlett.20 They styled themselves the Warren Town Company and proceeded to sell lots in their "new" town.21
Some, at lest, had faith in the enterprise. An advertisement appeared in the November, 1850, issue of the Washington Ranger, under the heading "New Fall and Winter Goods" declaring that: "The undersigned [A. S. Ruthven, of Houston and Muter Miller] would respectfully announce that they are preparing to move from Ralston's ferry, to the new town of Warren where they will constantly keep on hand a good supply of Dry Goods, Groceries, Hardware and such other articles as are required for the Planters' trade, which they will sell at low prices for Cash, Cotton or Hides."22
One reason for the confidence of such investors was the coming of the paddlewheel steamboats to the middle Brazos, the portion of the river that stretched from Bolivar, some forty miles from its mouth, up river to Washington. No longer would the town's fortunes be restricted to ferry traffic and local custom; a new era had dawned and Warren was now a river port.
It is difficult to imagine the Brazos as a navigable stream. Shallow, for most of the year, twisting, muddy and filled with snags and sandbars, it took men of extraordinary vision to see it as a vital link between the cotton fields that lined its banks and the spinning mills of New England. Houston and Galveston were rivals from the first for Washington County's cotton and, for a brief period, Galveston had the advantage. Roads across the prairie to Houston were little more than ruts that marked the way and, when the ruts became too deep to manage, wagon drivers simply moved over to firmer ground. when it rained, old timers described the mud as "deep enough to bog a saddle blanket." Paved roads were unheard of, but Houston visionaries, desperate for a share of the lucrative cotton market, proposed building a plank road from Houston to the Brazos River.23 Until the coming of the railroads, however, Houston merchants could only dream of profits beyond their reach. It is significant that the seal of the City of Houston bears two symbols: a steam locomotive and a plow. Houston was not built on oil, but rather on cotton, picked in the fields along the Brazos and hauled by rail to Houston.
Galveston's advantage was the river. Nature had not designed the Brazos for navigation but necessity and frontier stubbornness managed to reduce, if not eliminate, the risks incurred in establishing river commerce as high up river as Washington. The numerous shoals between Velasco and Washington were laboriously removed, and the hazard of the sandbar at the mouth of the river was circumvented by an inland canal connecting Galveston and the Brazos. Until the arrival of the railroads, the paddlewheelers were simply the best way of getting produce to market and returning with the supplies necessary to maintain a comfortable standard of living in places as far removed from the coast as Chappell Hill.
Towns such as Warren, which had begun a precarious existence as a cluster of cabins at a ferry landing, could now aspire to the dignity of warehouses, stores, taverns and, in the case of Rock Island, a few miles up river, even a church and school. When the steamboat's whistle began to be heard along this stretch of the river, Warren became a recognized port of call. Planters in the area hauled their cotton bales to the river bank at Warren and consigned them for sale by the factors at Galveston.
Captain William Plunkett Harris bought the small sidewheeler Cayuga to Washington in late 1834,24 but most of the early steamboat owners were content to take their profits from the tidewater until the navigational hazards of the middle river were removed. Both the Laura, with Captain Thomas Wigg Grayson at the wheel, and the Yellow Stone, also under Captain Grayson, ventured up river to Washington, but never established commerce to that point on a regular basis.25 The Mustang, underpowered but willing, made at least four trips to Washington in 1843, and the description by Dr. John Lockhart of her arrival at that place ranks among the best of steamboat anecdotes.26
In January, 1849, two sternwheel boats, the Brazos and the Washington arrived on the middle river. They had been commissioned by the Brazos Steam Association to run between Washington and Galveston. These boats were of 101 and 103 tons burden, respectively. They drew 15 inches of water, light, and required an additional foot for each 300 bales of cotton taken on board.27 They ran with fair regularity for several years and convincingly demonstrated the feasibility of steam navigation on the middle Brazos. Other boats that operated on this stretch of the river during the early 1850's include the Elite, the Galveston, the Jack Hays, the General Hamer, the Camden, the Reliance, the Major A. Harris, the William Penn and the Magnolia. In his autobiography, John A. Hargrove of Chappell Hill recalled: "In February, 1850, I decided to go to California. We took a steamboat at Warren and went down the Brazos and around to Galveston.28 He does not tell us the name of the boat, but Dr. Lockhart adds that detail to a recollection of his trip down the Brazos some three years later: "In 1853, Captain John C. Wallis and myself came to Velasco on the steamer Magnolia. She was loaded principally with cotton at the old 'Warren ferry' on the Brazos, three miles east of Chappell Hill. The river was at half banks. We had a delightful, and to us a novel trip to Velasco."29
The Warren ferry continued to operate for several years, but traffic was eventually diverted to a ferry crossing some three miles downstream. In 1852, the County Commissioners levied a tax of $50.00 on all ferries operating within the county: Millican's, Evitt's, Washington, Rock Island and Warren.30 In 1855, the tax was set at $25.00 for those at Washington, Rock Island and Warren.31 In 1856, it was lowered to $15.00.32 Beginning in 1857, the various ferries were all taxed at the same rate and were not individually identified. The court continued to assign an overseer and hands to maintain the road to Warren ferry until 1857, after which it is no longer mentioned.
In 1858, a notice for F. P. Sawyer's line of stages running from LaGrange to Houston advised the traveling public that: "...stages [leave] LaGrange every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, passing through Rutterville, [sic] Round Top, Brenham, Independence and Washington, crossing the Brazos at Rock Island and connecting at Hempstead, fifty miles from Houston, with his other line of stages, which leaves Brenham on the arrival of the above stage and, passing through Chappell Hill, crosses the Brazos at Warren."33 The ferry is again mentioned in a deed to five acres of land on the east side of the river "...embracing the Warren Ferry Landing" and dated July 2, 1861,34 but it seems likely that it was used seldom, if at all, by that time.
A few lots in the town were sold in 1856 and 1857, but the death knell for the river towns sounded with the coming of the railroad. When the builders of the Washington County Railroad bridged the river with their Howe plan trestle in 1861, they built it at such height "...that steamboats may pass under the same at a mesne boating stage of water, by lowering their chimneys,"35 a rather sanctimonious way of passing sentence on all river traffic above the bridge. Warren died, as did Lancaster, Rock Island and Washington.
In summation, it seems certain that the town of Warren was first conceived and platted by Jesse Bartlett, who purchased the tract in 1837 and died the following year before seeing his plans come to fruition. He called it Warren. Some significance may be attached to the fact that, throughout its brief history, neither the town nor the ferry was ever referred to as Warren's Town or Warren's Ferry, leading to the conclusion that it was not named for an individual who owned controlling interest in either the town or the ferry. Who, or what, was Warren? Following the sale of the town tract to the Warren Town Company in 1849, a more organized effort to establish a town was given added impetus by the steamboats that began calling at river ports along the middle Brazos. After the completion of the railroad into Washington County and the bridging of the river in late 1861, the town declined and finally disappeared completely, save for the occasional broken and over-burned brick that can still be found at the old town site, a short distance north of U.S. Highway 290, just below the mouth of New Year's Creek.
At a centennial celebration held in Brenham, Texas, on the Fourth of July, 1876, the Rev. William Carey Crane, a noted Baptist preacher and educator, favored the assembled citizens with an address almost as long as one of his celebrated sermons. In it, he gave an epitaph for Warren: "The town of Warren flourished as a small place at the mouth of New Year's Creek. It has no local habitation, and its name is here mentioned lest it may be entirely forgotten."36
1. Mrs. R. E. Pennington, The History of Brenham and Washington County, 1915, p. 16.
2. An Abstract of the Original Titles of Record in the General Land Office, 1838, (reprinted 1964), p. 30.
3. Deed Records of Washington County, Texas, Vol. A, pp. 44-45.
4. Ibid, Vol. B, p. 329.
5. Information from D.A.R. papers of Member #120062, Mrs. Bessie L. (Bartlett) Buchanan, provided by Walter Williams, Yoakum, Texas, 1996.
6. Robert E. Davis, ed., Diary of William Barret Travis, 1966, p. 175 (footnote).
7. Deed Records of Washington County, Vol. B, pp. 21, 34-35, 83, 231.
8. Texana, Vol. IV, No. 4, 1966, p. 325.
9. Thomas Lloyd Miller, Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835-1888, 1967, p. 724.
10. Texana, Vol. IV, No. 3, 1966, p. 261.
11. Judy and Nath Winfield, Cemetery Records of Washington County, Texas, 1826-1960, 1967, p. 246.
12. Final Records of Estate, Washington County, Texas, Vol. B, pp. 38-39, 45, 48.
Probate Records of Washington County, Texas, Vol. B, p. 37.
Probate Minutes of Washington County, Texas, Vol. A, pp. 312, 348.
13. Deed Records of Washington County, Vol. C, p. 172.
14. Telegraph and Texas Register, Houston, Texas, July 7, 1839, p. 5, col. 4.
15. Morning Star, Houston, Texas, July 1, 1840
16. Ibid, July 28, 1840.
17. Miss Annie Williams, Genealogical Records of the Routt Family.
18. Records of the Commissioners Court, Washington County, Texas, January Session, 1842.
19. Probate File #106, Washington County, Texas.
Probate Minutes of Washington County, Texas, Vol. B, pp. 375-385.
20. Deed Records of Washington County, Vol. I-J, pp. 167-169.
21. Ibid, Vol. I-J, pp. 221-222, 283; Vol. M, pp. 241, 441; Vol. F, pp. 461, 505; Vol. L, pp. 106, 286; Vol. N, p. 370; Vol. K, pp. 484-485, 488.
22. The Ranger, Washington, Texas, November, 1850, p. 3, col. 2.
23. H. P. N. Gammel, ed., The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, Vol. E, pp. 1131-1132.
24. Pamela Ashworth Puryear and Nath Winfield, Sandbars and Sternwheelers; Steam Navigation on the Brazos, 1976, pp. 42-43.
25. For a more complete account of all the paddlewheelers that plied the Brazos, see above.
26. Mrs. Jonnie Wallis and Laurence L. Hill, eds., Sixty Years on the Brazos: The Life and Letters of Dr. John Washington Lockhart, p. 84.
27. Puryear and Winfield, Sandbars and Sternwheelers, pp. 63-69.
28. J. A. Hargrove, Autobiography (copy in our possession).
29. Wallis and Hill, eds., Sixty Years on the Brazos, p. 86.
30. Records of the Commissioners Court, Washington County, February Session, 1852.
31. Ibid, 1855 Session.
32. Ibid, 1856 Session.
33. Jacob de Cordova, Texas: Her Resources and her Public Men, 1858 (reprinted 1969), p. 195.
34. Deed Records of Austin County, Texas, Vol. L, pp. 9-10.
35. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, Vol. V, p. 231.
36. William Carey Crane, A Centennial Address Embracing the History of Washington County, Texas, 1876 (reprinted 1939), p. 28.