By Kate Stow
At the conclusion of 1872, Texas and Pacific Railroad had built a depot along the tracks in the new town of Atlanta, and the first streets had been named. Railroad agent Mr. Brewer, telegraph operator Mr. Lee, trustees, surveymen and laborers camped in the depot building as the railroad tracks were being laid between Texarkana and Jefferson, and the little Cass County communities were talking of this new railroad town that was sure to be big.
Construction on the tracks was halted in the summer of 1873 when the great yellow fever epidemic hit East Texas. The first Texas and Pacific Railroad train finally arrived in Texarkana on December, 29, 1873. Upon completion of the tracks, the railroad trustees sold numbered lots along the streets to new entrepenuers ready to make some money.
Corn was growing on the fertile land around the several frog ponds which were located in what is now downtown Atlanta when John A. O’Dell erected the first store building in present Atlanta in June 1873. The building was a typical country store made of rough boxing lumber and a square planked-up front that went to the ridge of the roof. On each side of the front door was a small window.
On June 21, 1875, O’Dell bought Lots 15 and 16 in Block 1 for $125 where he erected a larger and better frame building for his growing mercantile business. Later in 1875, he purchased yet another lot. T.R.A. Willis, who had been clerking for him, accepted a half interest and became the cotton buyer and bookkeeper for the firm.
Land records in the county courthouse show that on Feb 11, 1875 Abe Miles bought Lot 14 in Block 1 for $50 and began the first drug store. G.M. Dodge, trustee for the railroad, signed the deed.
Mrs Anna R. Hughes also was an early buyer of property in Atlanta. On November 11, 1875, she paid $93 to the railroad trustees for Lot 3 in Block 6, upon which she built the Hughes Hotel.
Joe McReynolds, Sr. and his son-in-law, Jim Hughes, built a store about 20 yards from O’Dell’s and of the same type. Charley Kelley also built a store house. His father-in-law, O.C. McClung and son, Waddie McClung, both clerked for Kelley. Robert Lanier erected a saloon building. Jim Maxie and his son, John, owned the first blacksmith shop. H.D. Johnson operated the first hardware store. An elderly man named Temple had the first shoe mending shop in his home.
Saloons, Sawmills, Stables and Stores
On the front page of the Citizens Journal 60th Anniversary Edition in 1939, an article appeared listing the first business owners in town. They are, as follows: The first mercantile, or general, stores were owned by: J.A. O’Dell; J.W. Law; Captain P.R. Scott; Hughes and McReynolds; Howe & Allday; Jones & Christian; J. M. Murph; McClung and Sons; C. R. Kelley, M. Jacobs; A. Walters; L.S. Bake;, Balis and Willis; John Morris; R.H. Porter; Farmers Alliance Store operated by Jim Fears; Ed Bailey; Pat Torrance; J.D. Johnson; John Willis; R. S. Allday; William Henderson; and Ruff Stone.
It seems there was a saloon on every corner – owners included: Scott, Spell and Company; Scott & Hinkle; W. P. Scott Saloon; John Chamblee Saloon; Ed Edelstein Saloon; Gus Stevens Saloon. Mrs. Heard owned the first hotel; others were owned by Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Bickham, Sam Lea, John Hardy, Walter Allen, and T.R.A. Willis.
Porter Goodwin, “a colored man,” owned the first restaurant. George Dunklin owned the first feed store. Captain Preston Rose Scott operated the very first bank. A Mr. Petty opened up a cobbler and harness shop.
Otha Butler went into the tinkering business; a Dr Rush was also a tinker; Ben Ellington introduced banking in the town; a Mrs. Bricker opened a millinery business and she was assisted by the Misses Lucy and Alma Morriss. The first music instruction was given by Mrs. Dodd Coke; a Miss Herne opened a kindergarten.
Joseph Porter operated the first livery stable in Atlanta, located on the corner north of the well-known Hughes Hotel (where the library is now). A few years later W.S. Johnson built and ran a brick stable which the Atlanta Wholesale Grocery Company later purchased, enlarged it and started business there. Other stables were owned by: John Hardy, Abe Miles, William Browning, Porter & McWilliams and Mr. Eddleman.
Sawmills flourished in and near Atlanta for several years. The first one was located near the Presbyterian Church, and another was in the south part of town. Capt. Boyle operated it. The Sheets brothers operated a big mill and lumber yard in the north sector of town. The road leading to their place was later named Mill Street
The first musical band was organized and composed of the nine Sheets brothers, assisted by other young men. This band frequently assembled on the upper, front veranda of their large home in the evening and played music that entertained the city for hours. Walter Allen was their drummer.
The Sheets family, who lived on Butler Street, was composed of the parents, nine sons and daughters and their spouses. They all lived together in the one large home. The Sheets brothers operated a big mill and lumber yard in the north sector of town. The road leading to their place was later named Mill Street.
The nine younger Sheets men also organized and composed the first baseball team in Atlanta. John Walker often played as catcher with them and Mat Walker and Snow Groves played, too. The pitcher was Park Nichols from Iowa.
The first post office in the new Atlanta was established in 1874 with Robert Lanier as postmaster. Until then, the mail was brought from Marshall and other points by Pony Express only about twice a year.
The first newspaper office in Atlanta was “The Atlanta Express,” published by a man named Crockett Boone who opened the office in 1874. He also published the Queen City newspaper called “The Crescent.”
In 1876, the first physician, Dr. John Morriss, came to Atlanta. The first lawyers were E.A. Allday, T.D. Adams and a Mr. Rosser.