A Brief History of the City of Coleman
compiled by Ralph Terry

from “The History of Coleman County and Its People,” 1985

The place selected for the county seat was on a site that in 1873 had been barren of any vestige of human habitation, the beautiful plateau being the haunt of the buffalo more often than of domestic animals.  It was located on a prairie in the valley of Hords Creek, which made a great curve and left an almost level space a mile from hill to creek and several miles north and south.  The city now looms up and can be seen for miles away.  Immediately to the west is a high hill, rising abruptly to a height of seventy-five or one hundred feet.

In late 1875, action was begun to form a county seat - a committee to locate the site of the town were S. S. Gholson and F. M. Alexander, both of Camp Colorado, W. P. Williams of Trickham, Rich Coffey of Elm Creek, and Abe Hunter.  Three efforts were made to select a site for the county seat.  Henry Sackett, county surveyor, was ordered to find the center of the county.  He found it to be on the Bynum survey, which was later part of the Overall pasture.  Because water played such an important part in the lives of these pioneers, a group of county leaders suggested that the Phillips survey, located on Hords Creek, was a better location.  It was surveyed, and because of the lines, was not considered adapted for the county seat.  Two surveys met west of there, the R. J. Clow and the Miguel Benites, and in July of 1876, Clow offered to give 160 acres of his land as county seat.  The offer was accepted.  Between the Clow and the Benites surveys, a fine wide street was laid off, which was called Liveoak Street; the town lots were surveyed from the Clow, while the block for the courthouse was in the Benites.  The site was surveyed and laid out by R. S. Bowen, with the help of Col. J. E. McCord, Capt. E. A. Lindsey, J. F. Gordon, J. J. Callan, and others.  The crew were camped on the creek bank, close to wood and water.  Within a few weeks, other tents were put up nearby, as other families drifted in, and some of the newcomers cut small poles from the slough, which lay between the creek and the upper bank, where the town was to be.  The new town took the name of the county, and for many years it was called Coleman City.  Austin, with its wide streets, seemed to have been the pattern followed in laying out avenues and broad streets.  The two principal streets were College and Commercial Avenues.  Clow No. 1 was the first addition to the townsite.  The original town stopped on the west at about Pecos Street.  Mesquite, on the south, was the last street of the original town.  Streets running east and west were named after trees, those running north and south, after rivers.  East - west streets south of Mesquite were given numbers when later additions were made.

Almost before the survey of the town was completed, town lots were being sold, and there was a camp of settlers waiting to buy.  Under trees here and there were the wagons, buggies, and horses of new citizens.  Many were career people - doctors, lawyers, merchants, ranchmen - people who would make the valley a good town to live in.  Some of these people had all their stock-in-trade in a trunk, which sat on the ground beside a rough table, perhaps, with their bedrolls under the tent and cooking fire to one side.  Lots were on sale in July of 1876.  Prices were $15.00 for home sites and $40.00 for business lots, with one year’s time to build.  Lumber for building had to be hauled in; since all that took time, it was necessary for the buildings to be topped with canvas.  Rosalie Coleman Blair, the first white child born in Coleman, was given a lot within the city limits commemorating her birth.

In late summer, M. M. Callan proposed that he would get a stock of groceries in his tent, and if ranchmen would buy their supplies from him, he would go to Camp Colorado once a week and bring all their mail.  They were glad to do this, and on mail day, the bag was emptied out on the floor, each man picking out his own letters and papers.  Pony Express provided the first mail service to Coleman.  Camp Colorado was located on the stage line from Fort Worth to Yuma, Arizona, and there were stage stands about every 20 miles.  A post office was granted to Coleman with M. M. Callan as the first postmaster, and the post office was in his home.  (Note: Government records show that Coleman (C. H.) (meaning perhaps court house) was granted a post office February 7, 1876, several months before the city was even laid out ... I have no explanation for this.)

In the May term of court, 1876, an order was passed by the commissioner’s court, notifying Brown County officers to turn over all books and papers that belonged to Coleman County.  The first grand jury was appointed in October 1876, with Hy Paddleford as foreman.  Since there was no courthouse at the time, the meeting was held on the creek at what was called “Pecan Grove,” now the Coleman City Park.  The first local option election for Coleman County was ordered October 16, 1876, to be held in connection with the general election on November 7.

The first man to be buried in Coleman was gored by a bull on Home Creek; his name was Shannon.  He was cremated 15 years later by J. L. Spicer, and his ashes took north by his father in a silver urn to be placed in a vault by his mother.  The second man was killed by a drunken man on the street between what is now Bowens Drug and the Carousel, in 1983.  J. L. Spicer buried all the people there for 15 years.  J. F. Gordon headed a committee to arrange for a cemetery.  The committee purchased thirty acres at 25 cents per acre, located about a mile south of the courthouse.  In 1880, the cemetery separated into IOOF, Mason, Citizens, and Negro sections.  It was enlarged in 1884 through efforts of the Cemetery Association.  And speaking of digging, Spicer was employed by the city in December of 1876 to dig a well at the intersection of Liveoak and Colorado Streets and a second well at a future location.

When Spicer arrived in late 1876, with his family, there were only six houses and eight tents, one general store and three saloons.  At that time, tents dotted a small area, which paralleled what is now known as Commercial Avenue.  Stores operated out of the tents, and the town’s busy attorneys used tents as offices.  Soon, however, wooden houses and buildings began to replace the temporary dwellings.  The first building was a picket corn crib built by Ed Lodge.  He filled it with corn, which he had raised on the Jim Ned.  Lodge expected to start a wagon yard in Coleman.  The first store was built in Coleman by a man named King.  It was a long two-story house of rocks, the lower part of which was used for a store.  The upstairs was used for offices, cowboy dances, and other activities.  A long hitching rack was built on one side for the convenience of cowboys and others who had business in town.

No courthouse was ready, but across Liveoak Street, G. K. Elkins erected a two-story building out of native elm lumber, which was sawed on Sand Creek in Brown County.  This was used as a courthouse for sometime, and was on the lot where the First Coleman National Bank now stands.  The upper floor was rented for court business, a rare thing, and at other times it was used for dances, candidate speakings, and other gatherings.  The lower floor was a general store, selling everything from saddles and needles to whiskey and laces.  It is said that some unmarried men, coming to make Coleman their home, could find no tent or cabin and slept upstairs in this long building.  Adams and Beeman built a house about the middle of the first block of Commercial on the east side, for a drug store.  L. E. Collins brought his stock of merchandise from the house on the Jim Ned, where he had done a thriving business, mostly in saddles and other riding gear.  Collins later bought the store of Adams and Beeman.  Another small drugstore was owned by Coleman and Rawls, who sold it to J. F. Gordon.  When Collins bought his business, he moved the building to the site on which the south half of the First Coleman National Bank now stands.  Gordon and Collins consolidated to form a permanent drug company, which was later bought by W. J. Coulson.  Charles Flippen went into the drug business about 1882 with Collins, later buying another drug store and going into business for himself in the rock building north of the Bowen Drug Store.  Major L. B. Perry who had a saloon at Camp Colorado, built a log house on the east side of the 100 block of South Concho and moved his saloon.  J. B. Coleman put in a grocery store where Shipman’s is now located.  In 1877, John Goode built a hotel, with lumber that had been freighted in from Round Rock.  Within a few years, Mrs. Florence Wise Vane bought the hotel property and added a second story and other improvements.  She gave her place the name “The Florence House.”  It gained fame far and wide for its hospitality and sumptous meals.  People would travel for miles to reach Coleman so they could stay at the Florence House.  The house had rules as well as good service: Lights went out at 10 o’clock, and no talking was allowed after lights out.  It closed about 1914.

Several lawyers established early in Coleman.  One young attorney was T. H. Strong, who rode in on a rough pony after four days of travel.  In one of his saddlebags was Oldham and White’s Statutes and in the other, a copy of Texas Pleadings, his entire law library.  A competitor of Strong was young H. T. Sims, who had arrived two days before; he was much better off financially than Strong, as he had an old wagon, three horses, and a small tent which he erected near a large pecan tree at the entrance of what later became R. L. Dunman’s pasture.  He also had a more extensive law library, and soon built a house of postoak logs to use for home and office.  Other lawyers coming early were W. H. Skelton, A. R. Coleman, J. C. Randolph, T. J. White, and J. O. Woodward. Other early day businesses were: Eavens and Knight, grocers; Williamson and Bowen, land agents; Witherspoon and Davis, contractors and builders; two blacksmith shops, and a business operated by Gatewood, which did not last long.

An article from the Austin Democratic Statesman, January 17, 1878 says of Coleman: “The county seat is located on Hords Creek in the prairie eight miles distant from Santa Anna Peak, from the summit of which, looking towards the northwest, can be seen the fair little Prairie City as it shimmers in the sunlight.  It is but a few months more than a year old and has about two hundred and seventy-five inhabitants.  It contains six dry goods and one boot and shoe shop, one saddle shop, one barber shop, three saloons, one market house, three blacksmith shops, and two feed stables.  The military telegraph line passes through here and has a neat little office on the main Street.  The building used as a court house is also used as a church.  Coleman City has two doctors, three painters, six carpenters, several stone masons, two brick masons, and a large number of starved lawyers.  Flourishing schools exist in different portions of the county.  What we need most is a county paper.  There is a good opening for a live quill-driver.  The people of Coleman, as is evidenced by the scarcity of criminal business in the courts, are law-abiding and peaceful.  All those who come here to stay, it matters not where from, will receive a cordial welcome from a generous, free-hearted and honest people - J. C. R.”

 In February 1877, the county was ordered to pay one-half the expenses of extending the government telegraph line, which was one-half mile from town, to Coleman.  In November of that year the government leased a lot for 99 years for the site of a telegraph office at $1.00 per year.

The first rock house was built in 1878; rock being brought from Spicer land west of town.  The first boarding house was owned by J. L. Johnson; later by J. T. Woods, and contained 14 rooms.  It stood where the W. R. McClellan house was later located.  W. C. Perry had the second boarding house.  Boarding houses were crowded daily.

In 1877, a newspaper was begun by W. L. Gibbs, the “Coleman Telegram.”  It did not last long, and in 1881, the “Coleman Voice” was founded by J. J. Callan, brother of the postmaster.

One item which contributed to the growth of the area was the fact that it was on the Western trail, running from southern Texas to Kansas. The period from 1874 to 1884 saw Coleman County astride the trail.  From late April until late in the fall, thousands of steers and mixed herds slowly drifted northward through Coleman to market.  All the trail men needed supplies, and Coleman City was one of the last possible places for them.  The bawling herds, yelling cowboys, the chuck wagons and the remuda of horses came north from the easy crossings on the Colorado, right up the 100 foot wide Commercial Avenue which was only open prairie, among the tents, between the cookfires, or up Colorado Street.

J. B. Coleman was president of the first bank in the county, the First National.  It was organized in 1886, and was located in the back portion of what is now the Bowen Drug Store.  J. H. Babington was the bank’s cashier.

A fine native stone courthouse was built in 1884, by a prominent architect of the area; it featured a tall tower in the center ornamented with a great clock which clanged out the hours until the 1930’s.  For a time before police cars had radios, a light was located on top of the courthouse, which was turned on when the patrolman was needed at the station.  The building served until 1951, when the style was changed, but the sturdy walls were used in part, in enlarging and modernizing as it is today.

Most of the land was pre-empted by 1885, although in the depressions which came now and then, there were many who abandoned their farms or sold them for past-due taxes.  Better built houses had replaced the temporary dwellings, the streets were passable by buggies and wagons in dry weather, and every residence had a good yard fence to keep out the vagrant cows turned out to pasture each day.  In most back yards, was a carriage house or shed, a henhouse and, of course, a horse lot and cowpen.

The first known doctor to come to Coleman was Dr. Charles M. Alexander, who came in 1883.  Dr. Gabriel Beaumont came as the railroad doctor in 1886.

The railroad first entered Coleman County in 1886 and by September 1888, Coleman was the terminus of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe.  At that time, Coleman had a population of about 500 persons, fifty business houses and shops.  For the past season, Coleman’s wool trade had been drawn from sections which formerly had gone to other railroad points.

In 1890 there were six saloons in Coleman.  All liquor was freighted from San Angelo or some equally large city.  The saloons were closed on Sundays, holidays and election days.  Saloons were prohibited in Coleman from 1900, until precinct #1 voted wet in the late 1960’s.  Two large store buildings were then being erected by Blair Brothers, contractors, for the Lasker Building Association, which were to be occupied by A. Trippet, operating a general merchandise business.  The new jail, which we still have today, was being completed at a cost of $16,000.  At this time, there wasn’t a vacant house in Coleman.  About this time, Coleman had a flour mill, and two new gins.

The water system of Coleman began as a personal affair.  In the early days, the small dam on Hords Creek east of town was the supply, the water being distributed over town in barrels.  Each man’s barrel was equipped with a white flag which he raised when he wanted water.  It sold for 10 cents per barrel.  In 1893, a contract was given to Robert Kerchenel to supply the town with water, being pumped from Hords Creek.  By 1895, however, the city had taken over the water system and a new system was being installed.  It was to consist of a filter gallery and well in the bed of Hords Creek at the east end of Liveoak; a power house with boiler, pump and connections erected on the bank of Hords Creek; a reservoir of approximately 500,000 gallons capacity to be built on the hill at the west end of Liveoak Street; and a distributing system consisting of 4800 feet of 8 inch cast iron water mains, 3048 feet of 6 inch pipe, 6780 feet of 4 inch pipe, and 25 fire hydrants.  This system became outmoded and a proposal was made to build a lake.  That proposal caused wide and violent discussion, the opponents saying that Coleman would never need that much water.  The bond issue passed and the lake was built ... being the Coleman Lake, renamed Memory Lake in 1976.  Later, in 1925, Lake Scarborough was built, followed by Hords Creek Lake in 1948, and Lake Coleman in 1966.  Today, Coleman and much of the county, is supplied with water from Lake Coleman (40,000 acre feet) and Hords Creek Lake (9,000 acre feet), with Lake Scarborough being held in reserve.  The water supply is delivered by a looped system, has 2 to 21 inch mains with a average pressure of 70 psig; maximum system capacity is 6,100,000 gallons per day with 3,500,000 being the maximum daily use.  The first sewer system was installed in 1908, the result of a locally formed stock company, all of the stock of which was later owned by W. J. Coulson.  A Dallas firm acquired the system, enlarged it, and finally sold it to the city.

Telephones were first installed in Coleman in 1894.  The first electric plant was installed in 1902 on the site of the present plant and was built by Thad Knox.  It was managed by a Mr. Showrath and run by a Mr. Mashburn.  Lights were installed in about 50 homes at this time.  Today (1983), Coleman generates its own electric power with a generating capacity of 11,800KW.

The year of 1924 marked a great event in Coleman’s history.  The main street was paved that year, and the whole town turned out for a big celebration and street dance.  Today, Coleman takes into its city limits 4.85 square miles or 3,104 acres.  There are 71 miles of streets, with 47.2 miles of this being paved.

Coleman experienced tremendous growth in the late 1920’s.  In 1927, a new four story hotel, called the “Hotel Coleman” was built (now remodeled into the “High-Rise Apartments ) and a five story office building was begun (now the Coleman Bank).  Over 100 new homes were erected that year and one addition was restricted to brick homes.  Many new commercial buildings were also built then.  The city hall and fire station was erected in 1928 at a cost of nearly $35,600.

The population of Coleman has varied much over the years: 1880 - 400, 1890 - 906, 1900 - 1362, 1910 - 3046, 1920 - 2868, 1930 - 6078, 1940 - 6054, 1950 - 6530, 1960 - 6371, 1970 - 5608, 1980 - 5960.  It is interesting to consider what caused these increases and decreases both in Coleman and in the county.  The increase between 1880 and 1890 was caused by the advent of the railroad.  The increase of 1900 to 1910 was caused by farmers coming in to occupy former cattle ranges and further railroad activity.  The decrease of the next ten years was caused by, mainly, the terrible drouth of 1918 when many communities were entirely abandoned, with the influenza epidemic and World War I accounting for a small part of the loss.  The increase in 1920 to 1930 was caused primarily by the oil boom of the early twenties.  Since that time the population of Coleman has remained relatively stable, except for a slight decrease in the 1960’s, which was, in part due to the large population of World War II “war babies” graduating from school and moving off or attending college.

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This page updated July 5, 2004
Copyright © 1995 - 2004 by Ralph Terry