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The Divided Town of Starrville (August 2012)

The Divided Town of Starrville
By Marvin Mayer

Starrville, once the second largest city in Smith County, was founded in 1852 by the Reverend Joshua Starr. Starr, a Methodist minister from Alabama, purchased 640 acres of a tract known as the Hall Survey. Emphasizing that the sale of liquor within the boundaries of his acreage was forbidden, he began selling off lots for both residential and commercial development. The prohibition against liquor sales was made part of the transfer, and if it were violated, the land would revert back to Reverend Starr.

The town grew and prospered. Starr's Starrville Methodist Church was built in 1853. In 1857, the post office in nearby Gum Springs became the Starrville post office. Separate high schools for male and female students were created during the decade of the 1850s and the town's future seemed bright. In 1860, the Starrville Union Academy was chartered, consolidating those gender-separated high schools. Doctors and dentists served the growing community as did at least one hotel, gristmills, sawmills, foundries, and a wagon maker's shop.

Railroads, a critical cog in the wheel of community growth, bypassed many Texas towns, but in the case of Starrville, it was the town that rejected the railroad, refusing to allow tracks to be built through it. Rebuffed by Starrville, the railroad laid tracks to nearby Winona.

While Starrville may have won the battle, it lost the war. Population began to decline. From approximately 200 residents in 1892, that number had shrunk to 122 by 1907. The post office and Masonic Lodge both relocated to Winona. With the falling population, consolidation of the school system was inevitable. While the consolidation concept was straight forward, execution was a tad bit more challenging.

Most of the people and businesses leaving Starrville chose to relocate in nearby Winona, but not everyone was "on board" with that choice. Olin Weaver, one of Starrville's most influential and innovative leaders, adamantly refused to send his children to Winona. If Starrville's schools were to be consolidated into schools in Winona or Gladewater, his choice would be the latter. Others felt just as adamantly about Winona being the surviving school system.

The "feud" was reminiscent of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Emotions ran hot and high. County Road 369 became a makeshift "dividing line" between the families choosing to enroll their children in Winona versus Gladewater. To this day, families who reside on the west side of County Road 369 send their children to Winona while children living on the highway's east side are bussed to Gladewater. Many a TV western has depicted towns run by a dominant land owner. In its day, Starrville had at least two strong willed individuals. As a result, today's Starrville is a mere shell of its former self, but among its remaining inhabitants, the Winona/Gladewater debates are alive and well.