The following article is from the Bonham Daily Favorite, June 28, 1992
By John Frair
Dressed in tattered overalls and carrying a gunny sack over his shoulder he came shuffling and bent-over as carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The setting sun cast his long shadows up the red clay hill to announce his coming. As always, eyes cast downward toward his next step he made his weekly trip.
Little did he or the children watching his slow passage, realised he represented Ravenna. Texas' chance to have a place in history. Soon afterward Mr. Barrow would move his family and his toddler son and future gangster Clyde Barrow to Oklahoma.
Ravenna, like most communities reflects the changing farm economy since its founding in the mid 1880s. The movement of cotton growing from the early traditional states of Tennessee, Alabama and other southern states to the rich virgin soils of East Texas caused the community to boom.
The boll weevil that caused the movement of the cotton fields to the dryer climate of West Texas also created a decline in agricultural income here and in the industry that supported cotton.
Ravenna and its surrounding communities, for example, once supported two cotton gins. They have long been removed. Its recognition as a farming community has changed to what could now be described as a retirement community. While its population has remained about the same since the 1940s, the community's business, liketss cotton gins, no longer eixsts. Life here though has remained in many ways somewhat unchanged.
During the summer afternoons during the middle 1940s, the scene in Ravenna was being similarly repeated in many other communities in Fannin County. The crickets and the cicades' rhythmical chattering echoing throughout the hot countryside interrupted only briefly by the squawk of a jay or the fussing of a mocking bird. Here one of the favorite pass times was sitting on the 2 by 12 piece of timber "rescued" when the county built a bridge down the road. One end supported by the remains of a chinaberry tree stump, the other by a stack of coke cases. The rough wood worn smooth by the weather, sitting and scooting. A casual wave to a passing motorist or walker didn't interrupt the slide Of the knife blades down the branches that would eventually be whittled down to the size of a toothpick.
When the passing took the person out of earshot, the talk usually reverted to a discussion about the person who just passed. "You know, he's a good hand but . . . " One thing about a small community like Ravenna is that everyone knows what everyone is doing.
It waa almost with regret when a car pulled up to the pumps for gasoline or a farm truck would stop to pick up a block of ice for the water barrel to be taken to the field hands. The two pumps, standing like metal and glass monoliths, used hand power to draw the gasoline up fron the buried tank, gradually filling tha glass container atop the pump. Once the gallons registered with the order, gravity took over and the gasoline came swooshing down the hose into the car. Electricity shortly would make these pumps obsolete and change many aspects of the community.
Located just inside the door was a square red tank holding kerosene, for cooking, lighting, and stump burning, with its own hand pump. Across the road the sweet smell of coal and the sporadic sound of metal being struck by metal wafted out of the blacksmith's shop as the plows were repaired or the sickle on a hay mower was straightened from its last encounter with a hidden stump in the field.
The service station itself with the coming of the horseless carriages was a remodeled livery stable. The original tack room, its wooden floor worn smooth by the years of sliding hay over ita surface, now contained a wood stove used to warm one side of those gathered around it during the winter months. The stalls had been removed to create an open area with the livery and feed room being the only break in the open space. These now served as a storage room. Si’s Garage (Silas Frair) was one of two service stations still in business.
As late as 1925 the town contained five service stations with a garage, and several other businesses. Now it has one service station-grocery store combination, post office, beauty shop and two churches-the third church, the Methodist Church, finally had all its surviving parishioners move their memberships to Bonham, ten miles away.
While offering little in the way of employment it does offer to those that make their way to its serenity a quite country style of living reflecting a past era.
Si's service station always held a certain fascination with its dark comers, grease laden workbenches and hidden tools left behind by forgotten amateur mechanics. The red coke box sitting within sight of the open front doors was always filled with chocolate drinks, red pop, and cokes floating in a sea of ice and water. The Coka Colas dressed in their green Mae West bottles always held a fascinating window to the world. Engraved on the bottom of each coke was its bottling origin and many drinks were won and lost according to the person who had the bottle from the furthermost point away from Ravenna.
Even then, a stranger passing through town usually suggested they had taken the wrong turn, were lost and trying to wind their way through the seldom marked country roads bcak to a main highway. There was little reason for anyone coming to Ravenna unless you lived here.
The community was not always this way. Once, it was a thriving community with cotton gins, restaurants, saloons, school, and lumber companies. These have quietly shuffled their way out of town leaving a town that can be described as sleepy. The railroad helped bring the town into existence, and when it changed its route in 1929 to go through Bonham it helped bring the town to its slow decline. No longer competing with the larger towns in the county, Ravenna now listlessly relegates itself to being primarily a quite retirement community for those from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex wanting to spend their last years in the pleasant solitude and security that comes when living in the country.
I didn't realise the attraction of the community when I grew up there in the 40s and 60s. Of course, it was quite different then than it is now. Ravenna still had its school, or at least part of a school.
After the sixth grade we had to go the ten-miles to Bonham as part of the school consolidation plan. The three teachers each taught two grades in the same classroom. The bank no longer was in operation but we did have two service stations, three grocery stores and churches, a blacksmith shop, a garage, post office, and the gin. Even then I didn't understand the changes that had happened to the community.
Originally called Willow Point the name was changed to Ravenna because of the many "ravines" in the area. Early it was governed by a company of soldiers that were also used to protect the settlers from the Comanche and Kiowa Indians that roamed the area. Finally, it attained a corporate form of government having a mayor, a city marshall who executed the laws of the state, the city aldermen formed a legislative chamber and served as chief assistants to the ciiy mayor.
The government also had a justice of the peace who tried minor offenses, and council members who gave advice in legal manners. Ravenna also came under the jurisdiction of a precinct court at Ivanhoe and under the county court in Bonham.
The first cemetery established here has on old hand hewn gravestone that identified Daniel Tackett, who died May 8,1869. The grave generally sets the date when the first settlers arrived. After about five families had moved into the area the First Christian Church was established around 1874 on land donated by Drury Grogan. He also served as its first pastor. As saloons flourished in town, the church was moved and later destroyed by a tornado around 1887.
The church housed the first school in the community and taught by profesaors Walker and Tarpin. In 1917, the frame school house was moved and then replaced by a brick building. This school building burned in 1934 and was replaced for the final time with a brick building. In 1949 the Bonham School system annexed the Ravenna School into its system. Four or five years later the brick building setting on its corner lot was demolished.
In the mid-1800s a separate school, Ravenna Collego, was founded by Professor G. L. Marshall and his assistant Miss Kate Wolfe. In 1879, the college was moved to Ector by the college's president and vice president F. M. Gibson and B.W. Miller. It was merged a few years later with Grayson County College.
According to Floy Crandall Hodge's “A History of Fannin County" the prominent settlers north of Ravenna included Dr. J. R. Reed, Dr. J. C. Smith, Allen Agnew and Colonel Gideon Smith. To the west were settlers S. D. Rainey, J.D. Black, James Rowland, John Van Kirk, Joseph Hale and J. F. Anthony. It was L. B. and Daniel Grogan who built a steam mill here in 1876 along with their houses that established the formal beginning of the community. Soon afterward J. A. Monkstown built the first storehouse and saloon.
Ravenna was also on the stage coach line. The stage ran several times a week from Ragsdale east on the Red River and to Bonham.
Monkstown was later succeeded, according to the Texas Gazetteer of 1884, by J. W. Palmore and Dr. John Cunningham who did a merchandising business of $40,000 annually. Records show that J. W. Cravens and J. F. Anthony worked in the store. These businesses were quickly followed by a drug store and surgery "with a practice of physics and surgery" by Dr. Pickens and Cunningham and Mr. M. O. Morris. A cotton gin was built and then Mr. Stcger established a box factory and a brick yard. Next came a post office (1879), Johnson & Bryant Livery and the organization of the Methodist Church in 1884.
The Gazetteer listed the following settlers; George B. Anthony, stock raiser; Adolph Culpepper, brick making; D. J. Cunningham, livestock; Morris Dunn, saloon; Uriah Dunn, grocer; Reverend L.B. Grogan, Christian minister; F. C. Melton, wagonnaker; L. Morrow, carpenter; C. H. Smith, shoemaker; W..H. Walker, teacher and N. Wright, carpenter.
The town was incorporated November 6, 1888 by a vote of 50 for and 4 nays. No longer incorporated it is now under the jurisdiction of the precincts court at Bonham.
Three years later in 1891 the railroad was completed through Ravenna. This brought on a second period of town growth that lasted through the early 1900s. A third church, Baptist, was founded in 1893 and was followed by a bank in 1902 owned by J. F. Anthony, J. E. Spies and C. T. Christian of Bells. The assets of the bank at the time were $10,000.
The start of the twentieth century brought to the town Anthony & Son's drug and grocery store, Stegor & Company selling pine and oak lumber along with cypress and pine shingles, Charles Cox’s barber shop, Adams & Phillips' restaurant and confections, William Doggett’s Ravenna Meat Market, Adams Mercantile Co. (Inc.) selling dry goods, shoes and clothing. J. C. Barnett opened another grocery store and J. E. Spies was selling hardwood lumber and alfalfa hay.
Other businesses at the time included Frost & Spies grocery, Johnson & Bryant livery, Finley Brothers, restaurant. Dr. W. H. Alexander, Halsell & Caldwell furniture, Charles Davis hardware, Anthony & Huff drugs, Anthony & Reed grocery, E. Haggard's General Store and John Palmore operated 2 gins and a corn sheller. Ravenna also had a newspaper at that time.
By 1926 Ravenna had 4 grocery stores, 6 filling stations, a cafe, garage, drug store, meat market, 2 cotton gins, 2 blacksmith shops and a barber shop.
Ravenna met with many troubles during its early days. A company of soldiers camped north of town turned out to be a band of cattle thieves. While there they kidnapped an old man. When they became frightened by the soldiers they freed the man and left town. Early accounts also tell of Indians crossing the Red River and stealing horses. During one of their raids they also killed an old settler.
Business in Ravenna started declining when the railroad diverted its route through Bonham. The final blow came in August, 1966 when a fire destroyed the remaining two grocery stores, post office, and warehouses in the downtown area. A sign uncovered on a destroyed building had the name of Adams Mercantile Co. still intact.
Business in the community now is only a single all-purpose service station grocery store and restaurant. Two of the three churches remain and many new houses have beenn built. Tho town's third church, Methodist, has closed and the surviving parishioners have transferred their memberships to Bonham and other area Methodist churches.
Though no longer a business center of Fannin County, Ravenna remains a vital community with an active community organization.
(Historical information was gathered from A History of Fannin County by Floy Crandall Hodge and a history of Ravenna created by Josephine & Dan Garner and Virginia Eaton)
John Frair is a retired professor of journalism and now resides in the Ravenna community.