As we start the new millennium, Mesquite is a city of 126,570, full of business, industry and a continuing influx of new residents who come here looking for a place with all the amenities without the hustle of a bigger city.
But for all its growth in the past few decades - the population was only 27,345, according to the 1960 Census, up considerably from the 1,696 residents recorded in 1950 - Mesquite has rich history, as solid as the tree for which it is named.
On May 22, 1873, the first plat of the townsite of Mesquite was recorded at the Dallas County Courthouse by A.R. Alcott, a Texas & Pacific Railroad Company engineer and planner of depot towns. The railroad company bought a square mile of land, built a depot, and offered business property and residential lots for sale.
Six weeks later, on July 1, the Texas & Pacific train steamed from Shreveport through Mesquite to Dallas, marking the beginning of a new era.
Major William Bradfield, a North Carolina native, was the first stationmaster and the first postmaster. He came to Mesquite in 1873 with the railroad and has been recognized by Texas historians as the first settler of Mesquite. However, it is known that David Florence, Braxton Jobson, Zachariah Motley and John Lawrence and their families had already settled in the area.
Mesquite did not incorporate until December 3, 1887. It was the second town outside of Dallas in Dallas County to do so. A number of the community's civic leaders resided in the Long Creek area, now part of Sunnyvale. They included the Paschall, Reedy, Lawrence, Vineyard, Coats, Caldwell, Bennett, Snyder, and Webb families.
Education was important to these early pioneers, and different field schools were started on family farms. Dr. Counsel David Oates, a physician from Alabama, built the Oates school on his place in the 1870s near what is now Interstate 30 and Galloway Avenue.
The Bennett School was constructed sometime between 1861 and 1872 near New Market and Belt Line roads and served the community until 1894. J.C. Rugel from East Tennessee initially served as its only faculty in various vacant rooms and a log cabin for several years. Nine students formed the first graduating class in 1890. The Murphree School began operation in 1881 near Motley Drive and Town East Boulevard on land donated by J.H. Florence.
The Mesquite Community School served school children from 1887 to 1902 on the current site of the First Baptist Church. Rufus Cole, a Mesquite resident who attended the school for his first year of education, told Mesquite historians that the school was a two-story frame building and that the country school children walked to class through miles of mud, snow and rain. By 1887, the Common School District No. 21 of Mesquite consisted for two schools, including the Bennett School. In 1901, the Mesquite Independent School District formed.
The First Baptist Church is considered the oldest congregation in Mesquite. There is no evidence that the church had a regular house of worship until 1881, when a large frame building was built on Kimbrough Street. The First United Methodist Church was built about 1882 at its present location, and the First Christian Church, which actually began in Scyene, began meeting in Gross Hall by 1884 on a lot that is now a part of the public square. Construction of the First Presbyterian Church began in 1883 and was completed by 1885 on what is now West Davis Street.
In 1882, Sen. R.S. Kimbrough established The Texas Mesquiter (now The Local News), the oldest newspaper in the county outside of the city of Dallas. It began its news coverage of hometown people and events, printing with handset metal and wood type on an old George Washington hand press.
In 1890, Mesquite served an ever-expanding farming community. Neatly plotted, prosperous farms with cotton, hay, corn, sugar cane, cattle and horses were scattered around the town. The cotton yard was located on the southwest edge of town where the farmers who had no access to gins brought their cotton before taking it to one of Mesquite's two gin companies, operated by R.S. Kimbrough and Tobias Paschall. Ginned bales were placed on the cotton platform west of the depot, and then shipped out on the Texas & Pacific. In 1891, Mesquite marketed 4,114 bales of cotton.
For many years cotton was king. Then hay became the moneymaking crop of local farmers, from 1900 to 1920. Large hay meadows were located north and west of Mesquite. June and July marked the hay-baling season. Cattle to be sold were put in the town's stock pens west of the cotton platform and just south of the track, and then taken to market on the Texas & Pacific.
While the town was intent on its busy day-to-day life and activities, the outlaw Sam Bass and his gang held up the Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1878. A marker on the town square remembers the burglary of $160 dollars and registered mail.
During the early 1870s, the main business area faced the Texas & Pacific depot on Front Street. It consisted of a post office, railroad depot, Dad Ebrite's confectionary, a saloon, blacksmith shop, gin and four dwellings, two of which were occupied by J.J. Gallaher and another by Braxton Jobson.
In 1890, the population of Mesquite was 135. Only one poorly constructed road connected area farmers with Dallas, so people depended on Mesquite to serve their needs.
The trains used water and coal to make
their power in those days. The water tower was located down the
tracks east of Mesquite between the Texas & Pacific Railway
and Main Street and west of Mitchell-Goodwin Lumber Company. This
local landmark was dismantled in 1953 and sold to Pioneer Contractors
Schuyler Marshall Sr. who built the Dallas Pressed Brick Company in 1904. The Dallas Pressed Brick Company provided the first weekly employment checks to Mesquite residents.
Members of the Mesquite Businessmen's Association made auto excursions of neighboring towns to promote district business in Mesquite; they were the city's early-day chamber of commerce.
The number and variety of social activities increased by the 1920s. The Mesquite Fair was the most popular one. Town aldermen from 1923 to 1959 sponsored it. Farmers exhibited their livestock and crops, while the county agent set up demonstrations. Companies displayed their latest products. Traveling road shows, concerts, bands and moving picture shows, as well as amateur talent shows, amused the town's citizens.
Until the late 1940s, only Main, Davis, Front and Galloway streets existed. Awnings were on both sides of Front Street stores, facing the railroad and town square. Church meetings and the summer Chautauqua were the main community interests.
The growth of Mesquite can be divided into two eras. It was a quiet agricultural town from 1873 to the late 1950s. The number of residents increased by 1,561from 1890 to 1950. The post-World War II building boom brought phenomenal growth that increased the population. New subdivisions inched their way north.
The all-grade school campus originally built in a cotton patch was expanded by the building of the district's first additional campus, Florence Black Elementary School, in 1954.
Big Town Mall was constructed in 1959 and was the first enclosed mall in the Southwest. The first public library was built in 1964, and city services were expanded to meet the needs of a growing population.
In 1970, LBJ Freeway connected Mesquite to its neighboring communities. The expressway, as well as Town East Mall, brought increased economic growth to the city. Mesquite's centennial was marked by the 100,000th citizen and the printing of the cities historical volume, "A Stake In The Prairie."
In the 1980s, an effort arose to help preserve some of the city's heritage and the Mesquite Historical Commission was formed in 1986. The group was established to help preserve the city's culture and heritage. One of the first orders of business was the restoration of one of Mesquite's historical homes. In 1987, Florence Schulz and her daughter, Julie Morris, deeded their family home to the city for preservation. The commission hosted an open house for the community at the 4-acre site at 1424 Barnes Bridge Road to let residents know of restoration plans. The house, built in 1871 by David Florence, has been restored and the grounds have been renovated to depict daily farm life on the blackland prairie in the 19th century.
The commission, now the non-profit Historic Mesquite, Inc. (972-216-6468), is working on several projects, such as the restoration of the Lawrence family home, built in 1876 by Steven Decatur Lawrence. The house on Kearney Street and 2 acres were left to the City of Mesquite when the last of the Lawrence sisters passed away in 1995. The city has purchased 11 additional acres and plans call for a historical park that will include other structures of historical importance, and offer tours and educational programs to teach residents and visitors alike more about the rich history of Mesquite.
(Photos from "A Stake In The Prairie" 1984)
About Historic Mesquite, Inc.