History of Grayson County, TX

From the Beginning to Where We Are Today!

Grayson County

In December 1845, Texas was annexed into the Union. The first State Legislature organized several new counties, one of which was Grayson County. It was created from a part of Fannin County and authorized on November 17, 1846. Grayson County was named for Peter W. Grayson, who was attorney general in President Burnett’s Cabinet in 1836. Grayson was one of the signers of the treaty with Santa Ana. He was sent by President Burnett to Washington as one of the commissioners to obtain recognition on the part of the United States and seek friendly mediation and assistance in obtaining recognition from Mexico toward the independence of Texas as a republic.

From 1870 to 1880 settlement in North Texas flourished. The arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in Sherman and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas in Denison in late 1872 initiated a period of phenomenal growth and development for Grayson County. Numerous towns—including Denison, Sherman, Van Alstyne, Howe, and Gunter—sprang up because of the coming of the railroad to Grayson County.

Sherman, TX

Sherman was founded in 1846 by the Grayson County commissioners. It was located in the center of the county, four miles west of its present site, near highways 56 and 289. Because of a lack of wood and water, the town was moved in 1848 to its present site.
The county seat of Grayson County, Sherman was named after General Sidney Sherman, a hero of the Texas Revolution. At the decisive battle of San Jacinto, Sherman commanded the left wing of Houston’s army. He led his regiment with the now famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” By 1850, Sherman had become an incorporated town under Texas law, and a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route through Texas. It consisted of a public square with a log court house, and several businesses, a district clerk’s office, and a church along the east side of the square. Austin College, a private, Presbyterian, liberal arts college, relocated to Sherman in 1876. Founded in 1849, it is the oldest college or university in Texas operating under its original charter. Grayson College, a community college based in neighboring Denison, operates a branch campus in Sherman. Lake Texoma was completed in 1944 and boasted 1,250 miles of shoreline, as well as guaranteeing Sherman an ample supply of water and recreational opportunities. In 1950, Sherman’s population reached 20,150 and, during the 1950s and 1960s, the city saw a surge in industrial growth. To this day, Sherman maintains an exceptional industrial base for a city her size.

Van Alstyne, TX

Van Alstyne is on State Highway 5, U.S. Highway 75, Farm Road 121, and the Southern Pacific line, twelve miles south of Sherman in extreme south-central Grayson County. Settlers established the community of Mantua in the area during the 1850s. When the Houston and Texas Central Railway bypassed Mantua in 1872, many of that community’s residents purchased land from the railroad company and laid out a townsite. They named the new community after either William A. Van Alstyne, a civil engineer with the railroad who surveyed the right-of-way and the townsite, or Mrs. Marie Van Alstyne, a shareholder in the railroad company. The community opened a post office in 1873 and grew rapidly for the rest of the century. Van Alstyne incorporated in 1890, when it had a population of 400, two gristmills, a flour mill, a newspaper, and a college. Around 1900 the town had 1,940 residents and several banks, a grain elevator, a roller mill, and a chemical company. Though the population of Van Alstyne declined somewhat during the early 1900s, it remained an active center for retail trade, banking, schools, and churches.

Howe, TX

Howe is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 75, State Highway 5, and Farm Road 902, on the Southern Pacific line ten miles south of Sherman in southern Grayson County. The first settlers in the area arrived in 1836. The Houston and Texas Central Railway built through the area in 1873, and a railroad switch was located in the community. It was called Summit because at 810 feet above sea level it was supposed to be the highest point between the Red River and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1873, when Summit received a post office, two businesses were located at the switch: a general store and a saloon. Jabes Haning persuaded the railroad to establish a depot on his land by donating every second lot in his newly platted town to the railroad. The name of the depot, the store, and the post office was changed in 1876 to Howe, after F. M. Howe, who worked for the Houston and Texas Central. By the late 1880s the town had become a major grain-shipping center and was the home of Red Rust-proof Oats. A number of seed companies had their beginnings there in that decade. In 1890 Howe had a population of 450, with a steam gristmill, a Farmers’ Alliance Cooperative, and Baptist and Methodist churches, as well as hotels, doctors, druggists, and barbers. Throughout most of its history Howe has remained primarily an agricultural center, though some oil has been produced in the area.

Denison, TX

In the early 1870s William Benjamin Munson, Sr., and R. S. Stevens bought land in the area and prepared for the arrival of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (the Katy). The townsite was laid out in the summer of 1872 and named for the vice president of the Katy, George Denison. The first train arrived on Christmas Eve. Because the town was established close to where the MKT crossed the Red River (both important conduits of transportation in the industrial era), it came to be an important commercial center in the 19th century American West. The town had over 3,000 residents by the summer of 1873, when it incorporated. Although Main Street appeared to be an orderly collection of businesses, the surrounding area consisted of a tent city, inhabited by bars, gambling halls, and houses of prostitution.

During the phylloxera epidemic of the mid-1800s, a disease which destroyed the vast majority of wine grapes in Europe, Denison horticulturalist T.V. Munson pioneered methods in creating phylloxera resistant vines, and earned induction into the French Legion of Honor, as well as sister city status for Denison and Cognac, France.

On February 6, 1873, Denison established the first free public school in Texas. In 1886 a post office opened, and in 1889 the town had 5,000 residents. During the next ten years Denison established itself as a retail and shipping point for North Texas. In addition to the tracks of the MKT, the town also became a stop on the St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas and the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf railroads. Five additional rail lines that connected Denison with other communities in North Texas were chartered between the late 1870s and 1900, including the first interurban electric line between Denison and Sherman in 1896.

Denison was the birthplace of the thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. The home he was born in in 1890 has been returned to its original appearance and sits in the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Siteqv, a three-acre area that includes a museum.

Gunter, TX

Gunter is at the intersection of State Highway 289 and Farm Road 121, twelve miles southwest of Sherman in south central Grayson County. One of the later towns to be established in Grayson County, Gunter received a post office in 1898 and was organized as a community in 1902 when the tracks of the St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas Railway reached the area. The town’s namesake, John Gunter, a cattleman and surveyor, donated land for the townsite. The arrival of the railroad established Gunter as a retail and community center for area farmers. By 1914 the town reported a population of 800 and thirty-six businesses. Gunter grew until 1924, when the First State Bank closed its doors, leaving many businessmen and farmers in financial ruin. The Great Depression and two devastating fires in 1930 and 1948 further damaged the local economy. Gunter began to grow again in the 1950s, and experienced its greatest growth in the 2000s and 2010s, after doubling in population during the 1990s. Gunter has started to experience overflow growth from the northern Metroplex suburbs, due to its location on Hwy 289 and future tollway route.

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