ATHENS THRU THE YEARS
Athens is famous for many different things...
How It All Started
By Anne Adams
If you could travel back in time, maybe 200 years, and pop into what is now Athens, what would you see? Of course, it would be an unidentifiable wilderness with no roads or bridges and with only Native inhabitants.
But let’s jump ahead to the 1840s when the Republic of Texas became part of the U.S. and then the new state organized itself into counties.
In his 1999 book “An Antebellum History of Henderson County,” Kenneth Wayne Howell wrote: "On April 27, 1846, the state legislature carved out a large portion of the original Nacogdoches County and named the new area Henderson County after the first governor of Texas," This was of course James Pinckney Henderson and the land designated in this edict was far larger then today, totaling about 3500 square miles.
New settlers to the area meant land grants needed to be issued. One of these new settlers had his land surveyed, and one of the surveyors took as his fee several lots in the newly planned community of Buffalo located some 15 miles northwest of Trinidad. This community was believed to be a very promising commercial center because of its location on the Trinity River.
Then in 1848 the state legislature declared that a county seat should be located within five miles of the center point of the county. For Henderson County it was proposed that the county seat was be located in a new community to be called Centerville. Then to the disappointment of Buffalo citizens a county wide election chose the Centerville location and despite protests from Buffalo residents, the county government transferred their official documents to the new location.
Centerville was located as some twelve miles northeast of Buffalo and its residents had great plans for their town. It was surveyed, laid out in blocks and lots and there was even erected a cabin for the county clerk’s office. In fact, the county court held their first court term there in September, 1848.
However, later in May 1850 the county government returned to Buffalo mostly because Centerville simply lacked the town amenities that Buffalo possessed. But again Buffalo was to lose out.
That October (1850) there was new state legislation that reduced Henderson County to its present size, establishing new counties out of the areas formerly part of it. These were Kaufman, Van Zandt, Rockwall and Rains Counties, and the process reduced Henderson County to about 2500 square miles. That also meant a change of county seat, so once the center point of the new entity was decided it became evident that the new county seat would be Athens.
However, Athens then like other towns in the county lacked many amenities with few or no proper roads, or buildings, and primitive schools - where they existed. The county population at the time consisted of 1,160 free inhabitants and 81 enslaved individuals.
County business began in Athens when in Judge O.M. Roberts in Athens made his legal decisions under a large oak tree since there was no courthouse, and in October, 1850 the county court commissioners authorized the erection of a municipal structure - a town hall of sorts - at a cost of $65. It was finished a month later.
Athens was on its way.