Wharton (Images of America)
Paul N. Spellman
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On a bend in the Colorado River where it meanders through the Bay Prairie lies the town of Wharton. Caney and Peach Creeks spill into the river nearby and mark the boundaries of this small community. Stephen F. Austin first brought settlers here in the early 1820s, and the town of Wharton was organized in 1846. Named in memory of two brothers who fought in the Texas Revolution, the town sits astride trade routes that connect larger cities like Houston and San Antonio. Steamboats made their way up the Colorado River, and the railroad bustled through in the 1880s. The town began to grow quickly by 1900, and now, a century later, Wharton honors a diverse cultural heritage passed down for six generations. Today Wharton has more than 9,000 residents who make up a diverse and thriving community, and who still appreciate their special place along the mighty Colorado River.
Keller arrived in Ellinger in 1905 and then came to Wharton, where she met and married Adolph Shoppa. (Courtesy Kay Shoppa and Lloyd and Betty Shoppa.) The Wharton baseball team poses in its 1912 season. Sports have been a defining character of the Wharton community for over 100 years. Baseball and the rudiments of football came to town in the late 19th century and blossomed with rivalries against Bay City and El Campo over the years. Softball, volleyball, and basketball followed soon after.
Wharton County. A. C. Horton owned 170, R. H. D. Sorrel owned 123, and M. S. Stith owned 118, the three largest slave owners in Wharton. Jane and Henry Harris remembered their early years as Wharton slaves. Fifty-four families in Wharton owned nine or fewer slaves in the 1860s, most of them house servants. An aerial view of Wharton’s town square shows the growth during the Gilded Age. The town of Wharton grew slowly between the 1840s and 1870s but blossomed when the railroads came to Texas.
Its location on the railroads and its rich black soil have measured its successful growth for a century. East Bernard first graders pose in 1920. Early names related to East Bernard include Jethro Spivi from Alabama, Uriah Cooper, Haywood P. Stockton, and Louis Pietzsch. Germans and Czechs have a long history growing and expanding that community. El Campo grows on the “other side” of the Colorado River as “the Pearl of the Prairies,” established as Prairie Switch on the railways in 1881.
building, convenient walking distance from the jail and the courthouse. The hanging scaffold was just across the street in the early 1900s but gone after 1915. John W. Jones was first elected sheriff in 1886 and served four years, bringing some stability to Wharton law enforcement. He succeeded A. S. Jones, who had been Wharton’s sixth sheriff in four years. Sheriff Hamilton B. Dickson was elected in 1890 and again in 1892. On a hunt with the Colorado County sheriff Light Townsend in February
France, six soldiers from the Wharton area died in battle, including army captain Sam Craig (September 14) and Sgt. Alvin Rodgers (August 6). Howard Davidson (left) poses outside his home in 1918 with his mother and an army buddy. There were 1,115 men enlisted in the armed services from Wharton County between 1916 and 1918, including 68 African Americans who served overseas. J. Van Leeds Sr. of the U.S. Navy (1918) was one of 71 Wharton boys who chose the navy as their branch of service. All of