The Trinity River was the source of all commerce and trade in the area. This ferry was the single means of transit across the river for over fifty years. Courtesy of John Middleton
The Wallis family home soon became a principal stopping
place for early travelers in the area, and from the
beginning people saw their futures reflected in the muddy
waters of the Trinity. By 1838, Wallisville was recognized
as a community and was listed on Stephen F.
Austin's map of Texas. The community prospered and
grew as ranchers, farmers, and others associated with the
river commerce moved to the area. An 1842 article in the
Telegraph and Texas Register noted the rapidly growing
population of the Trinity River Valley, "as far as his vision
is extended . . . for several miles above and below
the ferry, [a traveler] noticed a continuing series of large
fields, prettily fenced in and cleared. Here the enterprising
planters are urging forward the labors of husbandry
with extraordinary diligence. A steamboat will soon ply
regularly on this river . . . and it is believed the expense
of hauling cotton to the Trinity, and exporting it to Galveston
will soon be less than the expense of transporting
it to New Orleans."
The population continued to grow during the 1840s and
1850s, and sugar cane was introduced to the area with
great results. The Galveston Daily News in 1849 said,
"we are glad to learn that the planters of the Trinity are
turning their attention to the culture of sugar cane, . . .
as we have never seen any of superior quality."
Wallisville's rival, Anahuac, founded in 1821 as a port
of entry for American colonists into Texas, was also a
prominent town. Located on the northeast bank of Trinity
Bay, Anahuac, along with Wallisville, was a principal
stopping place for all inland and outbound Trinity River
commerce. People on the mainland depended on Trinity
boats for a large amount of their groceries and flour, and
cotton and coal were the main items of transport out. A
survey of trade on the Trinity River in May, 1851,
showed that shipments up the river exceeded the outbound
freight. This heavy river traffic led to petitions to
the Legislature of Texas to construct canals and remove
hindrances to navigation. In 1852, Federal Aid in the
amount of $3,000 was used to dredge a channel through
sand bars at the mouth of the Trinity River.
In 1857, a post office was established at Wallisville, and
in 1858, Chambers County was created out of sections
of Liberty and Jefferson Counties. Both Anahuac and
Wallisville wanted to be selected as the county seat,
knowing that the addition of government offices would
be a boon to their economies. Wallisville was selected,
professional people were attracted to the town, and new
industries were established along the river. The Cummings
Export Company was opened, a saw mill that at
its peak cut eighty thousand board feet of lumber a day.
A cotton gin opened, and a sugar refinery processed cane
brought down the river from farms along the Trinity.
Wallisville prospered along the river as the Trinity River
Valley became the passageway of East Texas. But at the
height of the steamship era, a new railroad linked the
valley with the industrial East. The railroad passed to the
north of Wallisville through Liberty, already situated on
important overland trade routes. So far away were these
new tracks from Wallisville, that the town never grew to
its dreams of the future.
In September 1875, a hurricane destroyed many of the
houses and commercial buildings, and a few months
later the county courthouse burned to the ground. Ten
years later, the county built one of the finest two-story
brick courthouses in Texas, at a cost of $6,000. This
building was torn down in 1948 as a result of litigation
involving title to the courthouse square.
A hurricane in 1900 caused considerable damage to
property, but a ferocious storm in 1915 "almost wiped
Wallisville off the map," reported an August 1915 edition
of The Progress. "Water rose to a height of twenty
feet, the highest ever known." Most of the town rode out
the hurricane with John Middleton's relatives at Wallis
Hill, a few miles from the river. The Cummings Export
Company, with over one million board feet of milled and
logged timber, was totally destroyed. Logs which were
gathered in the river waiting to be milled, were driven
like torpedoes by the high winds, and smashed through
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed May 24, 2016.