Updated: Apr 5
Main street, Winnsboro. Photographer unknown
Oaklea Mansion was built in 1903. That was 120 years ago. The town itself has been here even longer than that. So what was Winnsboro like in the past? What is going on here now? And what will it be like in the future? These are very interesting questions, so let's find out the answers!
Winnsboro in the Past
Winnsboro was here long before it was established as a town. In fact, the first land survey was given under the Mexican Government before Texas became a republic. This was in September of 1835. The land was surveyed and granted to Mr. Gray King. The land was beautiful and covered in old-growth pine and oak trees. The first settlers arrived around 1854, including Mr. John Winn, for whom the town was named. The next year the first post office was built, and the town was named Crossroads. However, there was not enough activity to keep it going, so It was closed and re-established in June of 1874. From there, the town really began to grow. A rail line was soon established, and by 1903 (the year Oaklea was built), there were passenger trains running from Winnsboro to Marshall and Elysian Fields.
The railroad was nice to have and made for great entertainment. The railroad also brought tourists to town who spent a lot of money eating and shopping. Unfortunately, there were no paved roads or sidewalks at the time, so the town was often a muddy mess. In 1909 a man named Mel Wheeler brought the first car to Winnsboro. The car was as controversial as it was popular, dividing the town and causing a ruckus. The car was finally banned from all roads in the City limits except for about a mile of road. When he would drive through town, it would excite the young men in town, and they would climb the car; thus, in 1909, Winnsboro had its first fatality accident when one of these young men was killed.
The streets were finally paved in 1913, and cars soon shared the roads with wagons and horses.
During this time of growth, much of the revenue generated was from the saloons in town. However, the townsfolk decided that liquor should no longer be consumed and voted the town dry in the 1890s. The town stayed that way until 2013, almost 120 years later.
In 1931 someone struck oil in Quitman, and it wasn't long before Winnsboro had its fair share of oil rigs as well. Winnsboro was booming.
Then came The Depression and WWII. The population of Winnsboro declined, and those who stayed were worried and depressed. Tensions were high, and in 1942 a traveling preacher named Oscar Pillars, visiting a nearby congregation, was mobbed and thrown in jail. The mob was able to remove him from his cell and brought a new rope to hang him across the street (where Sinclairs is now). Fortunately, the rope broke, and the mob dispersed. A congregation member was also beaten and left for dead at that same time.
Winnsboro started settling down after the war and steadily began to grow again. The population has been steady for the most part since then.
Winnsboro is still a quintessential small town. Most downtown businesses still roll up the streets by 5 pm (12 on Saturdays). A few newer businesses are open late, such as Taco Dive and The Elusive Turkey, which have Bars and live Music. Many of them also have alcoholic beverages. The passenger train no longer comes through, and although the depot is still there, the train no longer stops in town. There is a museum in the depot you should check out. It is very interesting.
Near the depot on Saturdays from April till October is the Farmers Market. Motorized vehicles have replaced horses and wagons except once a year when the Autumn Trails is in town.
Winnsboro has the same problems and concerns as most smaller towns do. Finding a balance between growth and keeping the small-town feel can be difficult. However, we are making great changes and are becoming a beautiful example to the area.
Winnsboro became a Main Street City in 2018. It was one of only 68 cities in the state to receive this designation. Currently, Winnsboro is one of 90 cities with that privilege. Main Street cities are committed to preserving historical value through improvement programs. They can also receive grants from state and national resources dedicated to these improvements. Winnsboro won such a grant in 2021 and started improvements on Market Street to create a pedestrian walkway. There are still even more plans for Market Street to enhance the Beauty of the walkway. Soon, all of the utilities on Market will be moved underground. Right now, the wires and cables create a distraction, but soon those wires will not be seen anymore. There is another grant that will help improve the parks in the area as well. In 2020 a new state-of-the-art High school was built, complete with a beautiful new stadium. The school has since built a new locker room (2021) at the stadium and, in 2023, built a meat processing building where the AG kids can learn meat processing.
Some of the buildings have been or are being repaired downtown; this was a greatly needed thing for our city. Some of the buildings are over 100 years old and are in need of extensive repair. Winnsboro has so far succeeded in keeping its small-town appeal while making much-needed improvements.
Change is one of the things that are inevitable. Some will embrace it, and some will fight it.
For a while, Winnsboro verged on becoming a neglected Ghost town with empty buildings and crumbling infrastructure, but things are beginning to change. As was mentioned, the town is a Main Street city, Market Street will continue its improvements a little at a time, and the new owners of several of the buildings in the area have spent the money to repair the once-neglected older structures. What else is in Winnsboro's future?
It is hard not to notice the huge empty lots on Market Street. The City of Winnsboro has donated this spot to Winnsboro Center For the Arts for a new Performing Arts Center. The goal is to have the building Done by the Fall/Winter of this Year. WCA is still taking donations for this project. Watch the video to find out more about the project and how you can help.
Winnsboro will soon be making the improvements from the last bond elections. The improvements to infrastructure will include new roads. Many of our roads have been patched repeatedly, and several places have drainage problems. The bond to repair roads has been a long time coming. There have been and continue to be improvements to our parks through both Grants and private donations. Martin Luther King Park is in need of donations and volunteers to help. We have several community exchange programs, including the Free Art Library, the Take a Plant, leaf a Plant program, and the little free libraries. These programs have been a great community project. Another bond project is a new Animal Shelter. This will be an amazing thing for our town and the animals affected. There have already been improvements to cable and internet, which will continue to help local businesses and citizens. What else is in store? I am sure there is much to look forward to. We can keep our town on the map as a historic place to visit while still making it a convenient and comfortable place to live and visit.