Fannin County, Texas

The History of Leonard

The following articles, written by Tom Hymer, were published in the Bonham Daily Favorite, February 19-20, 1986

The town of Leonard, Fannin County, Texas, is located in the center of a tract of land which, on February 8, 1845, Anson Jones, as president of the Republic of Texas, granted to Martin Moore.  This tract, 3520 acres, was sold by Moore to Henry Sampson in 1851. Sampson sold the tract to E. J. Hart in 1853 for four thousand dollars.  Solomon Langdon purchased the tract in February, 1859, for $10,500.

The Martin Moore tract was not settled until 1880, when the railroad came through the area and the town of Leonard was established.  However, there were settlers surrounding the tract.  Several communities had been established.  They were Delba, Valley Creek, Grove Hill, Lane, Savage and Hickory Creek.

The first settlers to come to this area including William Boutwell, in 1843, J. M. Clymer, in the 1840's; Daniel W. Lee in 1844; Martin Smith in 1844 and John Scales W____, 1854.

The largest settlement in the area at the time of the Civil War was Grove Hill.  Its post office was named Oak Hill.  Among the early Grove Hill pioneers were James M. Smith, John ______ and Edward Groves, William __ Freeman, Joseph _____, ____ Cobb and Charles Henry Waller, all settling in the community before the Civil War.

After the Civil War there was a large migration from the old southern states, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, to Texas, and a large number settled in Southwest Fannin County, Neales, Crbss, Keys, Evanses, Savages, Smalleys, Blantons, Sufferths and many others.

The Martin Moore tract was located on the black land prairie that angles through Southwest Fannin County from northwest to southeast.  The prairie, as it angles through the countryside, is bound on either side by thickets, on the south by Wildcat Thicket and on the north by Bois d'Arc Thicket.

Wildcat Thicket was described as an area of trees, briar bushes, thorn vines and tall grass, so thick and dense that it was almost impossible to see into, even in day time.  It was also a haven for outlaws and fugitives.  Wildcat Thicket was the scene of several killings in the Lee-Peacock feud during the years 1865-1872.

Solomon Langdon Leonard, for whom the town of Leonard was named, was born November 11,1811, near Columbus, Ohio.  He died from drowning Sept. 24, 1861, near Fort Gibson, Indian Nation.  He was well educated, having mastered both Latin and Greek while preparing himself for the legal profession.

School teaching led him to Tennessee, where he met Leanna Hall, one of his pupils.  Following their marriage on Dec. 16, 1837, they moved to Northwest Missouri, where he took up surveying.  When 500,000 acres of public land, the Platte Purchase, was added to Missouri, Solomon L. Leonard was appointed to survey it.  The pay for this work enable him to buy a farm of 800 acres in Buchanan County, Missouri.

Leonard worked his land with slaves, and slavery was becoming unpopular in his part of Missouri.  As a result, he decided to move to the south.  His first trip to Fannin County was in 1843.  A story is told by his descendants that on this trip, he traded a slave for a parcel of land.  By 1861, Leonard had accumulated over 10,000 acres of land in Southwest Fannin County.  While moving Fannin County in 1861, he drowned while crossing the Grand River in Indian Territory.

The Leonard heirs, at the time of Solomon L. Leonard's death, were Leanna Hall Leonard, his widow, Perilla Lenna Connett, Celina Ann Connett, Mary Euphora Connett, Sara Eugenia Leonard, Laura Virginia Leonard, Anna Victoria Leonard, his daughters, and John Langdon Leonard and William Henry Leonard, his sons.

In 1880, the Leonard heirs entered into an agreement with H. L. Parmlee of Valley Creek, Texas, naming him their agent o negotiate with the Missouri Kansas and Texas railroad, the establishment of a townsite and a railroad depot on their land.

The Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad had stopped in Denison in 1871.  The railroad was extended in Whitewright in 1878 where it stopped again.  In 1880, construction was started again and the railroad was extended to Greenville.  On July 22, 1880, the town of Leonard came into existence with an auction sale of town lots.

​The sale of lots was held on the public square, which had been donated to the town by the Leonard heirs.  Mrs. R. C. May wrote in the Leonard Graphic, July 28, 1930, the following description of the public square and surrounding land:  "The soil was virgin, covered with a thick, dense growth.  Wild cats, wild deer, wild turkey and quail roomed the county side and wild black berries grew in abundance.  Families came from miles around each year to pick these berries."

The first business in Leonard was a saloon.  Mark Daniels bought the first lot sold in the auction.  In less than week he opened his doors for business in Leonard.  It was a general mercantile store from which he supplied the railroad building crews.

J. O. Kuyrkendall had the first dry goods store in Leonard.  He sold his store to G. D. Galloway in 1898 and proceeded to organize the first bank in Leonard.  George Cund, an English emigrant, had the first drug store in the new town.  Dr. Scott Pendergrass had old drugs in his doctors' office.

Allison-Grider and Wilson operated the first hardware and furniture business in Leonard.  They had moved from Valley Creek when the town was established.  In 1884, the firm split and J. R. Wilson took the furniture part and organized the J. R. Wilson and Co. business which continued to operate in Leonard until 1970. 

A man named Staley had the first blacksmith shop.  Shortly thereafter he committed suicide and was the first person buried in the Leonard Cemetery.

In 1885, according to Carter's History of Fannin County, Leonard had a population of 350 people.  There is in the town four stores that keep general merchandise, one drug store, four family groceries, three blacksmith shops, with wood shops attached.  There are two church buildings - one of which is used for a school, two practicing physicians and two lawyers, one steam gin and grist mill, and two hotels.

The sale of lots on July 22, 1880, was also the occasion of a picnic.  Covered dishes were spread and barbecue venison, wild turkey and quail were served to 150 people attending the sale.  the citizens of Leonard, numbering 50 in 1881, put on a still bigger celebration commemorating the first birthday of the new town and called it Leonard Picnic.  This annual celebration has been continued throughout the years with two omission, 1918 and 1845.

As a result of an election held on Sept. 14, 1889, Leonard was declared an incorporated town by Fannin County Judge, William A. Bramlette.  The boundaries extended for one-half mile north, east, south and west from the City Hall in the center of the square.  the population of the town was 400 people.

Albert Erwin, a 20-year-old, founded the Leonard Graphic in April, 1890.  The paper began with equipment purchased for $230.

According to a letter from Erwin, dated May 1929, to R.G. May, in April, 1890, there was only one brick business house in Leonard, that of J.O. Kuyrkendall on the north side of the square. Early the following year a firm of Leonard citizens known as Thomas, Saxon and Maben, together with the Masonic Lodge, built a two story building on the west side of the square.

Others then in business on the west side were Rotan and Owens, Yates and Shields, R.M. Johnson, John Allbright, J.R. Wilson and Estes Brothers; East Side: M. Cummings, Billie Womack and a jeweler named Barrett.

North Side: J.D. Allbright, George Cund, J.O. Kuyrkendall, Allison and Grider, Neale and Atterberry and A.L. Melton; South Side: King and Fordran and the Egbert Hotel. The East Side: A hotel operated by Matt Biggerstaff and W.O. Lewis had a dry goods store on the comer.

Neale and Braly were in the lumber business and Black and Millsap were the livery stable and feed store people. There were two gins. One was the Lovett Gin and the other the Potts and Leggett Gin. Fayette Franklin was in the Harness and Saddlery business. The physicians were Drs. Scott Pendergrass, Kemper, Lee and Woodson.

Billy Baxter was the constable, justice of the peace was Jim Ring. The first mayor elected was Shelby James. Walter Weaver or Jim Hickman was the first city marshal. John M. Hickman and son, Billie, were the blacksmiths. There were three church buildings, all frame, in the town: Baptist, Rev. John Connelly, the pastor; Methodist, Roy Gorsline, pastor; Presbyterian, Dr. Little, the pastor. Mr. Farmer, attorney: the postmaster was Thomas McQuade. D.. Wheatley was the superintendent of the school. This institution was housed in a rambling frame two-story building at the north end of town.

An article by John N. Green, publisher of the Leonard Graphic from April, 1908 to May 1915, brought to light much history of Leonard. The founders of the Graphic recognized their obligation and responsibility, not only to print the news but to vision needed improvements for the development of the community.

Leonard needed better educational facilities; needed better roads to attract more trade; needed permanent concrete sidewalks to replace the old dilapidated board walks; needed a water works system to replace unsanitary wells and overhead tanks for domestic use and fire protection; needed a more cooperative community spirit in bringing about these and other things so essential to community progress and happiness.

It was not long until these improvements were under way. The town soon had several miles of mudless sidewalks. It was not long vntil a first-class water system became a reality. Water mains were laid around the square in 1915.

Downtown improvements were not lagging. Fires had removed many of the unsightly frame landmarks and in their places modern brick buildings were erected. One was the two story brick building built in 1890 on the west side of the square. It had been destroyed by fire in 1908. It was replaced by a modern building for the First National Bank. Another was the modern building occupied by J.R. Wilson’s furniture store. Also, on the west side of the square, a new, attractive building had been erected for the newly organized First State Bank in 1912.

On the far northwest comer of the square fire had made way for a modern brick building that was built in 1914 for Y.T. Manning and Son hardware and implement store. The Masonic Lodge built a modern two story brick building on the southeast corner of the square replacing burnt out frame structures. The blacksmith shop of Hickman and Moore, south and across the street was destroyed by fire and replaced by modern brick buildings as was the mule barn owned by Neale and Gibson.

“More Civic Pride” became a Graphic slogan and gained impetus as yards were beautified and homes were repaired and repainted. Many new homes were erected including those of Ellis Giles, R.C. May, L.H. Saunders, F.A. Sheils, and Tucker, the photographer.

The most outstanding improvement to the business district was the beautiful city hall, constructed of red pressed brick and consisting of two stories, the second floor providing the town with a much needed public auditorium. Half of the first floor was occupied by the post office and the other half by the city office and the fire station.

Among the merchants of the town in 1915 were James A. Sheils & Son, general merchandise; G.D. Galloway, dry goods; E.D. Mitchell, general merchandise; Rigney Bros.,: general merchandise and produce; J.W. Meador’s meat market; Rotan and Owens, druggists; C.R. Um-barger, druggist; Dave Lewis, barber; Sam Ross, baker; R.R. Cook, A.L. Melton, B.N. Hunt, D.J. Atteberry, grocers; The Farmers Union store, groceries and feed; Jake Sharp and C.A. Blann, jewelers; Dave White, tailor; Joe Reed, tinner; Continental Bank and Trust Co., F.A. Sheils, cashier and Ed H. Winton, assistant cashier; the First National Bank, Joe F. Hall, cashier and A.P. Grider, assistant cashier; First State Bank, O.S. Ferguson, president and C.C. Miles, cashier; R.M. Johnson & Co., hardware and harness; M.D. Simmons, hardware and groceries; Y.T. Manning & Son, hardware and implements; J.R. Wilson, furniture and undertaker.

Other establishments were The Cash House, operated by Joe Hall and Oscar Evans, dry goods; Ross Nickle Store; O.H. Black’s grain house; and Ed and Poiter Neal’s Livery Stable; Gill Sudderth’s furniture and undertaker; Ellis Giles Drug Store; John Inman, confectionery; John Egbert’s restaurant; Mrs. C.T. Stewart, milliner; Joe Bates, Cafe; Hardman’s Cafe; The Leonard Telephone Exchange, operated by John D. Owens; The Egbert Hotel, operated by Mr. and Mrs. Noel; the Rock Hotel, Mrs. G.A. Diggs, manager; Woosley’s Hardware Store.

The two principal manufacturing industries were the Leonard Ice & Light Plant, J.C. Christian, manager, and the Leonard Cotton Oil Co., L.H. Saunders, manager. Three cotton gins operated at full capacity in season and Leonard was recognized as being one of the best cotton markets in that part of the state. Active cotton buyers were Ed Neale, O.S. Ferguson, J.A. Sheils, E.D. Mitchell and J.A. Craft.

Physicians serving the community were Dr. Scott and John Pendergrass, R.H. Crabb, O.S. Ewing and L.W. Watkins. Dr. F.M. Foster was the dentist with offices in the Sheils building on the north side of the square.

Building contractors were Tom Grider and John Waller, and many of the town’s best structures stand as monuments to the genius of these two men.

C.A. Blann was mayor, which office he held with distinction and credit for many years. W.W. (Si) Crane was city marshal and night watch. G.W. King was justice of the peace. The first picture show in Leonard was operated by Bill McQuade in the building adjoining the Graphic office on the south side. It was later moved to the building on the north side, vacated by Y.T. Manning & Sons.

The outstanding annual event, which had become an established institution, was the Leonard Picnic. And what a picnic it was with two days crowded with fun and recreation. It brought about many family reunions. Aside from the long-anticipated social get-together there were plenty of amusements for old and young. Old timers will recall the Tioga Brass Band, one of the best in the state; the ferris wheel; carnival shows including the always popular fortune teller; balloon ascensions, with the hair-raising parachute drop; boat rides on the Leonard pool; double-header baseball games between the arch rivals, Leonard and Bailey.

Leonard’s first automobile was owned by C.W. Brown, but it caused so many runaways and resultant damage that it was deemed advisable to dispose of it. Among the earlier car owners in Leonard were Earnest Sheils with his two cyclinder Reo, first a runabout and later a touring model; the Kissel car bought by Neale’s livery, but which proved impractical for the purpose, due to the uncertainty of its disposition to function; the three white Buicks owned by G.D. Galloway, Dr. Scott Pendergrass and Jake Sharp; Drs. Watkins, Ewing and Crabb each owned a Buick; E.D. Mitchell, a Buick and later Dr. John Pendergrass, a Buick. All were open “fresh-air” models with hand cranks and carbide lights. Other makes represented in Leonard as the industry gained momentum were the Brush (one cyclinder); E.M.F. 30; Ford model T; Mitchell an Oldsmobile.

The Leonard Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1915. Mayor L.W. Watkins called a meeting to order Feb. 11, in O.W. Sharritt’s barber shop for the purpose or organizing a fire department. Joe F. Hall was elected president; O.W. Sharritt, secretary; William Giles, chief and W.A. Sudderth, asst, chief.

Two teams were organized. Members of Hose Cart No. One were Charles H. Blann, A.P. Grider, Jess Crabb, J.W. Bailey, Hugh Melton, H.C. Clark, Lon Manning, O.L. Golden and H.L. Ewing.

Members of Hose No. Two were Gill Sudderth, F.N. Rigney, L.t. Gray, Horace Melton, William Sudderth, J.F. LaRoe, Less Abernathy, Wade Chapman and Kent Giles.

The Leonard Post office was established in 1881 in the general mercantile store of Levi Kerr on the northeast corner of the square. In 1882, the post office moved to the Allison and Grider Hardware Store. C.D. Allison was the postmaster. Greerge Cund became the postmaster in 1885, and the post office was moved into Cund’s Drug Store. In 1889, Tom McQuade became the postmaster and the office moved into the W.S. Neale Building. Tom McQuade was succeeded by the following: A.L. Melton, 1893; R.C. May, 1897; A.L. Melton, 1914, John L. Dillon, 1922; Alwyn L. Golden, 1935; Joe Gill Sudderth, 1971; Elinor Record, 1977; and Dan Haggard, the present postmaster, in 1979.

Walter S. Preddy, for whom Loflin-Preddy Post 110 of the American Legion in Leonard, was partially named, was a member of the U.S. Army. He was assigned to Company C, 19th Infantry which trained at Fort Sam Houston.

Preddy was the son of Mr. and Mrs. S.D. Preddy of the Valley Creek community. He enlisted in the army May 1, 1917 and after a few weeks training was sent overseas. He was twice wounded, the first time on April 12, 1918, from which he recovered and returned to the firing line. His second wound was on July 18, 1918, from which he died two days later. He was not yet 19 years old.

The brick on the Leonard Public Square were laid in 1923. At the same time the merchants around the square set out trees, each in front of their places of business, on the City Hall lawn.

In 1925, those in business around the square were LaRoe Lumber Co.; Golden and McAlpine, Chevrolet Agency:  Rock Hotel; Clarence
Woosley, hardware and implements; Liberty Theatre, Jim and Nora Trapp, owners; T.D. Ensminger, grocer; R.M. Johnson, hardware; J. D. Johnson, leather and shoe repair; J.R. Wilson & Co., furniture store and undertaker; Crabb & Meador, drugs; Dr. R.H. Crabb, physician; Buchanan’s Barber Shop; J.R. Cash Jewelry Store; E.D. Mitchell, dry goods and groceries: Leonard National Bank, Homer Collins, cashier; Rogers & Chrisman Grocery; Scott Wright Tailor Shop: First National Bank. A.P. Grider, cashier: Manning and Clark Hardware and Implement Store, Charley Clark, manager.

Model Variety Store, O.W. Sharritt, manager; Blackburn’s Men’s Wear; Sharritts Barber Shop; Giles & Ewing Drug Store; Woodard Simmons Grocery; Powell & Anderson Grocery; Atteberry Grocery; Rigney Grocery and Produce; Ross Bakery; Hickman Blacksmith Shop; Grove Hill Masonic Lodge; Jim Neale’s Mule Bam; City Meat Market; Lyon & Gray Lumber Yard; Reasonover Filling Station; J.D. Galloway, dry goods; Joe Lee Stevens Grocery; The Leonard Graphic, R.C. May, publisher; Farmers Union Store, groceries and fee; and C.A. Blann, jewelry.

In 1925, Arthur Adams was the mayor, W.T. Merrell was the city marshal and John L. Dillon was postmaster. A Mr. Westbrook was the depot agent.

Leonard established a school in 1881, only six months after the sale of the first lot. A Mr. Davis was the first teacher, followed by a Mr. Roberts. J.M. Park accepted the teaching duties in 1884. He was ably assisted by Miss Almeda J. Wilder. W.I. Scudder of Valley Creek succeeded Park. Mr. Wheatley followed Mr. Scudder and was head of the school for several yars.

Dr. D.H. Dodson, a Presbyterian minister, founded the Leonard Collegiate Institute about 1890. A few years later the name was changed to Dodson College. In 1909, Dr. Dodson sold the school to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the name was changed to Cumberland College. Later, it was again changed, this time to Manton College. The school closed in 1914 and the Leonard School purchased its property and held school in the college building until 1923, when it was replaced by a new high school building.

Larry Tucker is the present superintendent of the Leonard School System. Other school administrators have been A.S. Broadfoot, later a judge in the Sixth District Court; W.A. Thomas, later an Internal Revenue collector. He was a brother-in-law to Sam Rayburn. Others who have headed the school are W.D. George, C.K. McClendon and Wayne Tate.

In 1939, the Leonard Graphic ran the following article in regard to old established businesses in Leonard:

J.D. Johnson, who operates a leather and shoe repair shop on the west side of the square, has been in business in Leonard since 1886. He has been in the same building for 50 years which has been owned by him and his brother, R.M. Johnson, now decreased, for that length of time.

C.A. Blann has operated a jewelry store and watch repair business in Leonard for 45 years. He has witnessed the erection of every business building in Leonard with one exception, that being the building now occupied by R.O. Evans & Son. This building, the first of brick in the town, was built by J.O. Kuyrkendall.

Ellis Giles, proprietor of Giles Drug Store, went into business in his present location September 1,1902.

R. O. Evans is another old firm which opened for business September 1, 1902, in the same building they now occupy, being the first brick building in Leonard and in which there has been no other business but that of dry goods. For 35 years the firm was Hall & Evans. Mr. Joe Hall retired from the firm in 1937.

The Gill Sudderth Furniture and Undertaking Co. is the oldest business firm in Leoanrd from the standpoint of having the same individual as manager. In 1901, Mr. Sudderth acquired the business and it has been under his personal management since that time.

G .D. Galloway moved to Leonard in 1895 and bought J.O. Kuyrkendall s dry goods store in the building now occupied by R.O. Evans. Later he built his own building and remained in business until 1930. Mr. Galloway still lives in Leonard and looks after his different business interests here.

F. N. Rigney is another pioneer merchant of Leonard. He and his family moved here in 1900 and entered the general merchandise and produce business. The business is now known as Rigney and Son.

Y. T. Manning has been connected with his hardware business in Leonard for the past 35 years. The firm is now known as Manning and Meador. They have been in the same location on the northwest corner of the square since he purchased the business from Allison and Grider, who established the business, at this same location, in 1881.

In speaking of pioneer businesses, Mr. J.W. Egbert, now of Greenville, deserves mention. He owned and operated the Egbert Hotel, an old landmark, which was recently tom down, for over 50 years.

The J.R. Wilson Furniture and Undertaking Co. celebrated their 50th anniversary last October. The business was founded by J.R. Wilson and is now under the management of his son, Pat.

The worst fire that has occurred in Leonard since the west side burned in 1898 broke out Sunday morning, Oct. 13, 1943. in the As Theatre. The blaze soon spread to the Rock Hotel. The fire lasted over three hours. Both buildings and their contents were complete losses. Clarence Woosley was the owner of the Rock Hotel.

The Rock Hotel building was occupied by the West Side Barber Shop, operated by Guy Christian and Jim Trapp; Estelle Taylor’s cafe; Scott Wright’s tailor shop; the Lone Star Gas Co. office and the Leonard School District Tax Office.

The Rock Hotel was built in 1899 by the late W.W. Yates and was operated many years by Mrs. G.A. Diggs.

On May 7, 1945, Leonard had another disastrous fire that started about 4 p.m. in a large warehouse, a two story building, across the alley north of the Victory Theatre, owned by Gil Sudderth. The fire burned for over two hours and when it was brought under control, there was no water left in the tower.

Guy and Jim’s Barber Shop, the Victory Theatre, a vacant building owned by Homer Evans, Sudderth and Stuteville Grocery and the warehouse, were a total loss. In 1943, Guy Christian and Jim Trapp’s Barber Shop and a picture show, owned by L.B. Crow, were burned out. They moved to the north side to be burned out again.

Another disastrous fire occurred in Leonard when the Leonard High School Building burned in January, 1980. The building was built in 1923 to replace the Manton College Building the Leonard School District had bought from the Presbyterian Church, U.S. A. in 1914.

This history highlights the one hundred year period from 1845 to 1945.