Since I own the domain applebytexas.com and live here in the community, I feel obliged to the old town, as well as the past and present residents to dedicate a little web space to the history of Appleby.
Deep in East Texas, in the middle of the Piney Woods lies Nacogdoches County. The county is named for it's only large town; a town that is rich with Texas history dating back to the Indians, the first inhabitants of this land. Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas and a town that is proud of it's history. However, this story isn't about Nacogdoches but instead about Appleby, one of the many small outlying communities that were at one time thriving towns.
The area which is now considered Appleby has been the home to people long before the Spanish forged a trail thru these woods. Present day Appleby is located near what was once a Caddo Indian village. The Caddos occupied the area until around 1826, when the population of the white man began to force them from the area. Around 1840 a few pioneers started building crude log houses in these woods but the big population boom was yet to come. By the late 1870's the area had many more residents and had built two schools nearby and even had a practicing physician living in the widespread community. There was about to be a big transition that would change the landscape and the community forever.
There was a great need for a cheaper, faster and a more efficient mode of transportation to haul the timber and cotton from East Texas to the larger cities. The Houston East and West Railroad was the answer. The railroad would need to be built from Houston to Shreveport, Louisiana, right through the heart of the Piney Woods. In the summer of 1882 the railroad was being built in the woods about 10 miles north of Nacogdoches and went right through the growing little community that was about to become a town. The railroad was completed in 1886 after 10 years of construction. But things would be slow to develop in the community at first because the train didn't stop as it passed through. As the train would roll by, the mail was thrown from a railroad car. A barrel hoop was hung on a pole and rigged so that the outgoing mail could be "snagged" as the train passed by. For some unknown reason, around this time the railroad officials started calling the area Appleby, after James Appleby the auditor for the railroad company. By 1889 there was general store near the tracks which was owned and operated by W.T. Skeeters. Around 1891 Skeeters applied to have a post office in Appleby and the request was approved. Shortly after the post office was built, the railroad made the decision to build a sidetrack and a depot in this new little town. Now that Appleby was a regular stop for the train, a booming growth was inevitable. Soon after the depot was built a 100 x 150 yard area of pine forest near the tracks was donated by John H. Richardson and platted as the town square. Then a very large area north of the tracks and a small area south of the tracks was platted for city lots and streets.
Not long after the town square was laid out and cleared, the building began. Soon there was a grocery store, a drug store, two cotton gins, several new homes and two other stores built in Appleby. By 1900 the town had a population of 280 and the town continued to grow in size over the next few years. It is reported that around 1918 the town consisted of, the railroad depot, post office, a bank, a café, several drug stores, several general stores, a mechanic's garage, the school, 4 churches, at least 2 doctors, a blacksmith shop, a meat market, a barber shop, a feed store, a telephone office, two hotels, two gins, four nearby saw mills, and several other stores and many residences. The population reached it's highest point of about 1,000 citizens around the time of World War I. What started out as just a few settlers had exploded into a bustling little city in a short amount of time. But there were more changes in store for Appleby.
In 1918 when World War I was officially over, the decline of Appleby began for a series of complex reasons. As the increase in transportation grew and became more common and more affordable, people began leaving Appleby to buy their goods and trade. Also many residents were moving to the larger cities were the job market was much larger and offered many possibilities. Thus the decline in population began and rather rapidly. By 1925 the population was down to around 500. A major road was built about 1 mile north of Appleby (present day Hyw. 59) and bypassed the town which helped to dry it up even further. Between the late 1920's and early 1930's two very important, long standing stores were destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. In 1931 the Appleby State Bank closed and it became apparent to all, the decline of Appleby was permanent. By this point, many of the other stores had either closed their doors or moved their businesses to Nacogdoches or other towns as the Great Depression sank in across the nation. Had it not been for the economic hardships of the Great Depression, things might have picked back up in Appleby but since that part of history was a reality, we will never know. As the little railroad town slowly withered , it was obvious that very few of the city lots and streets, that had been platted 40 years earlier, would ever be used as intended. And if the Depression, the loss of so many residents, and the local fires weren't bad enough, more tough years were in store for Appleby.
On the night of December 26, 1942 a very large tornado stuck the town and every building received damage and 16 were demolished. Many homes were destroyed as well as the post office, and two churches. There was no record of such a storm hitting the area like the one that night. Then on January 4, 1946, devastation struck again when another tornado barreled thru the town, this time leaving death in it's path. Mrs. Roscoe Till and Mrs. William Kirk were killed in the storm and several homes and buildings and were destroyed. Many of the buildings destroyed by these two storms were never rebuilt.
The final end of an era occurred when the last passenger trained rolled thru Appleby in 1954 and shortly after the depot was closed and dismantled by the railroad company. It was officially over. By 1955 Appleby was almost back where it started, with approximately 250 residents and in 1960 the post office closed it's doors for good. However, there was one last blow in store for the town, as if everything else hadn't been enough. On March 27, 1961 one more tornado blew through the town. This time two more lives were lost, those of Mr. and Mrs. Worley G. Brookshire. Several homes, barns, and a chicken house were also destroyed by the storm. It was around this time that Appleby officially started being referred to as the "Tornado Alley" of Nacogdoches County.
For the next few decades the population of Appleby stayed fairly constant but as time moved on, a few people, often older folks, started moving back to the area as Nacogdoches grew. Present day Appleby has a population of around 437, according to the US Census Bureau in 2000. Today there are no businesses left in what was once the old town square. For many years now most of the area of the old square has been owned and used by the tiny Corinth Primitive Baptist Church. In the woods surrounding the old square are some brick rubble and foundation stones that are the last testament to the many stores that once stood there. There are 4 churches in the community today as well as 4 businesses which are located a mile north of the railroad on Hyw. 59.
This is a very much condensed version of this little town's history. Much has been left out for the sake of time and web space. The details presented hopefully give the reader a feel for how the town came about. But what is missing here is the story of the first residents and their struggles and hardships in their daily lives. They were hard working people living in difficult times, doing what it took to survive and raise a family. Their story is not exclusive to this community; they are the people that came ahead of us and made America what it is today.
From a few settlers in log cabins, to a bustling railroad town with busy streets, and then to a small sleepy little community, this is the story of Appleby, Texas.
- Jason Robertson
- Much of this information was derived from Appleby, The Story of an East Texas Town by the late James Vard Melton and a great thanks goes to him. Other information was recorded from various historical internet sites, and stories from long time Appleby residents.