Smith County, Texas

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The History of Tyler and the Gaston Family

by Alliene Gaston Coker

TYLER . . .

Just ten years after a little band of Texans had gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declared Texas a Free and Independent Republic, settlers came to seek a new home in the tall pines of East Texas.

In 1846 five Commissioners, under the authority of the State Legislature, came to East Texas to select a town site. These men located just the spot they wanted - the top of a rounded hill from where they could look far to the north, the south, the east and the west and this was the spot where the first Courthouse was built. The owner of this property was reluctant to sell, but the Commissioners took what they needed and paid him a reasonable sum for it, $150.00 for 28 blocks. Thus, created out of the old Nacogdoches County by an act of the State Legislature on April 11, 1846, TYLER WAS BORN.

Each block facing the square had a 200-foot frontage and was divided into lots of 40 feet each. The main square was, and has remained, two blocks wide and one block deep. The square was covered with wild plum thickets and heavy brush. The first Courthouse was made of logs, and other buildings were made of rough, hewn logs cut from the surrounding thickets. The Courthouse was the center of early religious life of the community, as well as serving for the town hall. From miles around the sparsely settled countryside, people gathered to exchange month-old news, home remedies and recipes. Late in the evenings, trash was swept from the stores and burned out in front.

Most of the homes were built of logs, daubed together, and the rooms were very large with great fire-places and a hall through the center of the house. The kitchen was a large room which was set off at the back of the house because of the danger of fire. Massive chimneys rose from the ground on each side of the house. The furniture was made by hand from large hollowed logs cut in half and the same provided a cradle for many a young Tylerite.

Mothers and daughters would mold candles and store them away for use on long winter evenings. Lamps were looked upon as a fad for many years. All cooking was done on great hearths. All wearing apparel was made at home. I recall that even as late as 1900, my mother and sister sewed many hours to make all of our clothing, coats and underwear and they would send me running to Mayer and Schmidt which was nearly a mile from home, several times to get thread and supplies for their sewing.

These people were self reliant, honest, reverent and neighborly. Many a wagon, loaded with family's worldly goods, remained on the road for days after a break-down, unmolested. What a difference from today.

Feeling the need of a fuller religious life, Tyler organized her churches. The little Courthouse was the first meeting place for the devout of Tyler. The Methodist, the first to organize, met in the Masonic Hall across from what is now Marvin Church. The Baptists organized a few months later in 1848. The Presbyterians organized in 1868.

In 1855, there were less than 1,000 inhabitants in the County. Before the Civil War, gold and silver was the medium of exchange and the settlers often buried it on their premises for safe keeping.

During the weary years of War Between the States, when the South bowed low, the distressed people of this district keenly felt the burden. This busy, new Country became idle, from 1861 to 1865, their farming was limited because their men were bearing Arms for the Confederacy. There was a country-wide panic from 1866 to 1872 when the Confederate money vanished from the scene. By 1875 conditions began to improve and the early settlers began anew to organize and build the town.

The Gaston Family . . .

The name of Gaston is honorably associated in the annals of France, where they were zealous and distinguished adherents of the Huguenot Cause in the latter part of the seventeenth century. On the revocation of the Edict of Nantez during the reign of Louis XIV, they went to Baldymore in Ireland.

The Gastons are descended in direct line from Hugh Capet, the first king of Dames and the Huguenot Society of America, also by the National Society of Daughters of American Revolution, in which Margaret Gaston Williams and Alliene Gaston Coker were accepted as members on the John Gaston line. A knowledgable history student in our family said this ancestor was not anything to make us proud because Hugh Capet was not a good king.

The Gastons left Ireland, went to Scotland and later to America, and settled in the North and South Carolinas. They established a homestead known as Cedar Shoals on the Cataba River in 1752, which is still in the family and kept up by the younger generations. Here, John Gaston served as King's Justice before 1776. He afterward served as leader of the patriots during the British incursion of 1780-81. Justice John Gaston died in 1782 and his wife in 1789. They had twelve children. John Gaston fought in the Battle of Hanging Rock with his four sons who were killed.

John's son, Hugh Gaston was a Presbyterian Minister of great piety and learning and the author of "Gaston's Concordance", a standard work of the Church. Hugh was the elder brother of the distinguished surgeon who was graduated from the Medical College of Edinburgh. After which, he was appointed surgeon in the Navy where he served for a time, then resigned and came to Newburn North Carolina.

Another cousin of the Tyler Gastons was William Henry Gaston, better known as "Billy Gaston, the Boy Captain" of Hood's Texas Brigade. His father, Robert Kirkpatrick Gaston and family lived in Mississippi until he received a letter from a neighbor who had moved to Texas and praised the country so highly that the Robert Gaston family to sell their Mississippi farm and head for Texas on Sept. 19, 1849. Their goods were transported in three wagons tended by twenty negroes while the family rode in a one-horse hack. It took 6 weeks, camping out at night in tents. They settled at Palestine and Robert Gaston bought 320 acres of land along the Trinity River. Billy Gaston was not the scholarly type but he was good in arithmetic. Billy's father was impressed with Dallas and decided to move there in 1860. They traveled by Tyler, stopping at Mt. Sylvan where many of the negroes took typhoid, some dying. Then later winter came and Robert rented a home at Mt. Sylvan, planning to go to Dallas in the spring. But the three eldest boys were enlisted in the Army so that cancelled Roberts plans and he settled in Smith County and before his death in 1881, he had represented that County twice in the Texas Legislature.

Billy was made a Captain in the Army before his 22nd birthday hence the title of Boy Captain. George and Robert were wounded in service, dying as result of their wounds. Then Billy took typhoid during his 2nd battle of importance so he was discharged and returned Anderson Co. in June 1865, where he engaged in growing and selling cotton for several years.

When Billy came to Dallas in April, 1868, his saddlebags contained $20,000 in gold and Dallas had no bank so he and a friend, Aaron Camp formed a partnership for trading in Real Estate etc in this town of Dallas which at that time had a population of about 1200 people.

They bought a three-story brick structure located at Main and Jefferson (now Record). The Bank Vault was the first in the State. He also invested in much land, which is now occupied by Dallas State Fair and a cemetery in which he was buried at his death on Jan. 24, 1927 at age of 87.

One year later, in 1876, a new couple by the name of Gaston came to Tyler. Finis Ewing Gaston of Oktoc, Mississippi, near Starkville, had just graduated from Baltimore College of Dentistry; and he came to Nashville, Tenn., where his future bride, Bessie Clarinda James, the daughter of Daniel D. and Angeline Love James lived. She had just graduated from Ward Seminary in Nashville which was a Presbyterian School. Dr. Ward, the President of Ward's married this young couple in Simpkins Chapel on May 4, 1876. They left at once for Tyler, Texas. This was thirty years after Tyler was born and given her name. They did not come as strangers as Dr. and Mrs. William J. Goodman already had a home in Tyler, which is now known as "The Goodman Museum". Mrs. Goodman was formerly Priscilla Gaston, a cousin of Finis Ewing Gaston. And Dr. Goodman had been a Physician in the Confederate Army and Finis Ewing Gaston had served a short term in the Army while a Teen-ager. So Dr. and Mrs Goodman invited the Gastons to be their guests while Dr. Goodman and Dr. Gaston searched for a good location for the Gaston's new home. They were in the Goodman home for three weeks, then lived in a boarding house on North Spring while their home at 522 North Bos d’ Arc was ready for occupancy; this being just across the way from the Goodmans.

There were two families who later lived in this same block as neighbors for many years; the Flieshel Family and the John A. Brown family. After the deaths of Mr. And Mrs. Brown, their children sold the lot to Davis Mfg. Co and the home was moved to the Windsor Farm on Highway 64. As Davis Mfg. Co. was enlarged, all of the homes in this full block were demolished except one two story on the corner of Bois d' Arc and Selman St.

In 1884, Ebenezer Gaston of Oktoc, Miss. Came to visit his three sons living in Tyler, and he was very disappointed to find no Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Tyler. The Gastons had been attending Marvin Methodist; so Ebenezer purchased a lot in the block across from the Post Office as recorded in Vol 40, page 41, deed records of Smith County and presented it as a gift to The Cumberland Church, making his three sons as trustees of the land until formally turned over to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church which was formed on July 1, 1888. Four Elders of the Church signed acceptance of the property as follows: John S. Hill, (Father of Mrs. Cecil E. Gayle) F. E. Gaston, (Father of Mrs. F. Reinchardt Coker) Alex Storr and W. A. Pinkerton.

The First Presbyterian Church built a new Church at the corner of South Broadway and West Elm and moved to that location from their West Ferguson Street property on April 16, 1916. when The First Presbyterian, The Central Presbyterian and the Cumberland Presbyterian were all united as one Church under the leadership of Dr. Robert Hill as pastor in 1915. Mrs. Ollie Melrena Estes is now 93 years old and in a Rest Home but has maintained membership through each change of name and now on our own roll in our original Name.

Alliene Gaston Coker's Memories . . .

Now, to recall the life of my own family in the early days of Tyler. My father rented space for his dental office in downtown Tyler, up stairs over where Leon's is presently located. There was a Drug Store at that time where Leon's is now. As I remember, there were only three Dentists in Tyler; Dr. Adams, Dr. Crews and my Father. My father worked at his dental chair for many years, having supported his family of six children until he finally died of a "tired heart" in the year 1913. The whole Square was busy with wagons, people and teams of horses, especially on Saturdays, so that they could sell their products and then purchase their supplies.

Tyler, at that time had open saloons. I liked to go to my father's office occasionally just to watch the crowds from the window. Many times, I would see a beggar ask my father for money, then in a few minutes I would see him go into the saloon across the street to spend it. The saloon was where Mayer & Schmidt's men's clothing department was later located.

Our home had a large front yard with a low picket fence painted white around it, and in those days the meat market would deliver our meat very early in the morning, leaving it in a box which was fastened to the top of the front fence. In the space back of the house, there was a large vegetable garden, a grape arbor, fruit bearing trees and a barn where the horse, cow and chickens were kept. In the side yard, my Mother’s rose garden, her pride and joy where the paths were lined with small blooming plants. We hired help with the yard work and maid to help in the house. There were three girls in the family, and we took turns in preparing the noon meal.

My father always had prayers each night before bedtime. I remember one night, as he was praying, and all of us were kneeling in front of our chairs, a bat flew into the room and kept hitting the walls and sliding down. I did not hear the prayer that night because I was watching to be sure the bat didn't fly towards me. That was before we had screens for the windows.

My father was superintendent of Sunday School and wanted all of us to be on time. My mother was sometimes running a little late, so he finally devised the scheme of setting the clock up fifteen minutes each Sunday morning so that she would be on time.

My older brothers went to a private school, only one room, located on North Bois d' Arc, near our home. The teacher was Miss Jennie Jenkins and she tolerated no foolishness whatever. When a pupil misbehaved, I was told, she would lift him out of the window by his shirt collar and set him on the ground outside until she was ready to lift him back in again. My brothers later told the family that when they were punished, sometimes they would run home for a bite to eat and then take their seat and soon to be lifted back into the school room again.

We had a large rope swing which hung between two trees in the yard and my sister would swing me very high. One day, our horse was grazing on the front lawn, and he walked in front of the swing as it came forward. There was nothing to do but -- let it happen - and as I swung into the horse, he kicked up his heels and the metal shoe on his foot cut my face just at the corner of my mouth. Mrs. Fleishel, our good neighbor, came over to hold me in her lap while the physician, Dr. Baldwin, stitched it together, and it really did not leave a scar that was noticeable. There was no hospital at that time, so the Doctor came to the home when needed.

The High School I attended was located on Locust Street, above the Fire Department. I think we only attended there for one year. Our graduating class was the last one to hold the graduating exercises in the Old Opera House. This Opera House had been made famous because Tyler was able to get Sarah Bernhart here for a Concert.

I was the youngest in my class. I was not able to go to college that year so my father arranged for me to go back for one year for a Post Graduate Course.

In 1920 I decided to get a temporary job of some kind to help with our family income, so, by chance, I met John Stephens on the street, he being Vice President of the Peoples National Bank at that time, and I asked him if they had an opening at the bank. He said: "Yes, we do as of tomorrow, so you may come in and go to work". I thought I would only work temporarily, but it resulted that it lasted for 44 years, when it was time to retire. I was made an Assistant Cashier when I worked a year or so, but finally was made an Asst. Vice President a few years before retiring. That was unusual in our Bank for a woman, but now, at this time, women in our Bank have really come into their own, there being a number of full Vice Presidents among them, and I am very proud of them all.

The three down town Banks of Tyler are at this time engaged in projects to keep the down town section alive as a Financial Center. Our Bank (Peoples) and the Citizens First are engaged in building office buildings for Professional people, Oil Companies and Oil Officials.

The Peoples Bank has already started work on their new 20 story Tower Building, whose offices are already 80% leased even before it was started.

I believe the cooperation of the Three Banks will succeed in saving "Our Down Town District" from being a "Dead down town" as is the case in so many other Cities who have grown as our City is now growing.

Hand written note at the bottom of the letter:

This has been written for the generations of Gaston both young and old. It has dwelt more particularly with Tyler and the 3 Gaston families who lived in Tyler.

A special thanks to Joe Gaston who transcribed this manuscript and to
Ann Stubblefield Ince of Knoxville, TN, granddaughter of Alliene Gaston Coker,
for giving permission to publish the manuscript.

 

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