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Town of Conroe Montgomery County Texas

Excerpts from
“A History of Montgomery County, Texas”
Chapter V, Cities, Towns, and Communities
by William Harley Gandy”:
For Sources, see Endnotes:


The city of Conroe is the infant municipality of Montgomery County. Although it was not named until sometime later, it had its beginning January 1, 1881 when Isaac Conroe purchased the Joshua G. Smith tract of land. Previous to the year 1881 Isaac Conroe operated a sawmill at Haltom south of Conroe on the International and Great Northern Railroad, and after purchasing the timber land from J. G. Smith, in October he moved his sawmill to the center of the Smith survey. This location was about two and a half miles east of the railroad, at which is the site of present-day Beach. After the mill was constructed a tram was built from the mill to the International and Great Northern Railroad track. The tram was made with wooden rails and spiked with wooden spikes, upon which tram cars were drawn by three mules harnessed in single file. The mules were driven without lines, the leader being trained to keep in the middle of the road and all that was necessary for the driver to do was to sit upon the load of lumber with his foot on the brake and use and eight plat whip which was attached to a stock about six feet long. Some of the drivers became so expert with the whip that with little effort they could knock a horse fly off a mule at one crack.53


The opening of Isaac Conroe's mill brought new people to the vicinity who were employed by the mill. They settled around the mill and along the tram and at its junction with the main railroad. About 1885 J. K. Ayres built a sawmill near where the Santa Fe section house now stands. 54 This mill also brought to the vicinity more people who settled at the junction of the tram and railroad.


On June 15, 1882 the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe purchased a right-of-way through Montgomery County, and in the latter part of the 1880's the railroad was finished. This line connected with Conroe's tram and crossed the International and Great Northern at that point; therefore the point of the crossing of the two railroads became an important prospect for future industrial expansion.55


It was after the completion of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe, that is about the year 1886, that Conroe acquired its name. Before that time, the local area was unnamed and the vicinity was just a number of houses about the mills and along the railroad tracks. In an article written by W. M. Conroe, son of Isaac Conroe, the following was related concerning the naming of Conroe: 

Our home was in Houston and Father made trips to Houston every Saturday or Sunday, and to catch the train it was necessary to flag it at night with a lantern and in the day time with a white handkerchief. It was on one of his return trips from Houston that Mr. Hoxey, an official of the road at that time, happened to be a passenger and sat with my father. Father approached him on the matter of making a regular stop and Mr. Hoxey was favorably impressed with the idea, and arranged with my father to sell or have tickets sold for short trips over the I. & G. N. Mr. Hoxey asked father if he had named the place, and the reply was that he had not.

Mr. Hoxey then said why not call it Conroe's switch? Which of course was satisfactory.

Mr. Hoxey is really the man who named the town. Soon after the above incident, tickets arrived and on these tickets was printed, "From Conroe's To ____________.

The post office department a little later established a post office, Father being the post master, and the place was named Conroe's. All maps and postmarks prior to 1889 carried the name Conroe's. Soon after 1889 the 's was dropped by the post office department and the name Conroe appeared. I wrote the railroad company myself, as they were carrying the name Conroe's which was on the sign at the depot was changed to Conroe, hence this is the way Conroe got its name.56


In another article written by W. M. Conroe it was declared that the town site of Conroe, at the beginning of its history, was a dense forest so thick that one might get lost if not familiar with the lay of the land. The area was thickly inhabited by wolves, bear, deer, wild cats, and nearly all manner of wild life. In the article Mr. Conroe claimed he subsisted on venison meat rather than beef. 57


By 1889 Conroe had grown to be a town of probably two hundred fifty or three hundred people.58


While most of the population of the county was west of the San Jacinto River, the citizens petitioned the court to hold an election for moving the county seat to Conroe. On April 27, 1889 the election was held and with the combined vote of Conroe, Willis, and the mill population of Leonidas near Conroe, Conroe with a majority of sixty-two votes won the election.59


Conroe profited from Willis' mistake, because she did not waste any time obtaining temporary buildings for the county offices. On May 14, 1889 the Commissioners Court met and passed on the following in regard to a temporary courthouse and having the county records moved from Montgomery:

A contract for temporary public buildings was made with Capt. Isaac Conroe, and his residence on lot 8, in block 4, was secured for county offices. A large district courtroom, forty feet square, is to be erected on the north end of the lot, as well as a commodious room for the accommodation of the county's safes and records, and the upstairs of the residence is to be fitted up as a grand jury room. For the rent of all this property the county is to pay $25 for the first month, and $ 50 per month so long as it occupies it thereafter.

The contract for removing the county safes, records, courthouse furniture, etc, was awarded to W. H. Jones for $ 172. 59; and that for building, a temporary jail and moving the cages from Montgomery to Conroe and placing them in it was taken by A. L. Austin for $269. 60


The records were moved by W. H. Jones from Montgomery to the new location in Conroe on May 17, 1889. 61


The question of the permanent location of the courthouse and jail was settled by accepting the proposition of Captain J. K. Ayres of his donation of block eight for the courthouse site and block ten for the jail site.62 This location was in the Ayres Addition of Conroe, which was laid off on the west side of the International and Great Northern track, and north of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe track. The main business and residential part of the town was on the east side of the tracks and the citizens on May 14, 1889 protested to the court against the location; they claiming that the site chosen was too much of a thicket and undeveloped. To the dismay of the people, the court ignored the protest and on the same day accepted Mr. Ayres' offer. The court ordered advertisements to be placed in the newspaper to architects for plans and specifications for the necessary buildings. 63


The advertisement appeared in the newspaper soon after and it read as follows: 


Notice is hereby given to all parties concerned that the county commissioner's court of Montgomery county, Texas, will receive plans and specifications for the erection at Conroe, Texas, of a brick court house not to exceed an estimated cost of Ten thousand dollars.

Said plans and specifications should be filed with the clerk of the county court of Montgomery county, at his office in the town of Conroe on or about 10 o'clock A. M., of the second Monday and 10th day of June, A. D. 1889, at which time they will be opened and considered by the court.

On August 6, 1889, the court gave a contract to Moodie and Ellis of Greenville, Texas to build a brick and steel courthouse and jail for the amount of twenty-five thousand two hundred ninety‑five dollars. 65


The brick for Conroe's first courthouse were made from clay which was dug close to the Santa Fe railroad tracks. While the building was under construction W. M. Conroe related the following situation:


...While the present court house was built a deer was shot on the corner of the square by one of the men then engaged in work on the structure. He also says that in those early days of the city of Conroe one could not blow a hunting horn in the city limits without having hounds come a yelping from every direction. Packs of wolves howled so loud and vociferously at night that the citizens could hardly sleep. Hunting for all kinds of game was the sport of sports in that day and Mr. Conroe states that he kept primed for the trail and enjoyed it to his heart's content. 66

Due to the ideal industrial set-up of Conroe, with the location of the county seat, two railroads, and numerous sawmills, it is no wonder that it became the leading city in Montgomery County. By 1898 Conroe boasted twenty-four business houses – three of which were saloons, and three hotels, all doing a good business. 67 By 1900 Conroe led all other towns in the county - with a population of 1009 people. 68

Like all fast growing towns, Conroe has had its share of epidemics and disasters. In October, 1897 Conroe had a yellow fever epidemic. The fever became so alarming that the state health department quarantined the whole county. So many people were sick and dying that there were hardly enough well people to bury the dead and attend the sick. When the quarantine was lifted an article appeared in the local paper expressing the following sentiments of the local citizens:

All hands and the cook were made to feel extremely glad Sunday, when the bulletin board announced that the quarantine was raised to all Texas. It had been on for a week, and our people had been hemmed in without mail, freight or communication of any kind, neighbors being almost afraid to visit each other. Business had grown so tame, that there was hardly anything for sale. Another week of quarantine would have sent all to the country and the town would have: become depopulated. If Dr. Guiteras had been in town the boys could have had fun furnishing a coat of tar and feathers. 69

On November 15, 1904 J. T. Rucks, County Judge, issued a declaration for an election to be held in the Seller's Building in the town of Conroe on the 10th day of December, 1904, to determine whether or not the inhabitants of the town of Conroe wanted to be incorporated as a municipal corporation. 70 In December the election was held and the result was as follows:


...The returns of an election held on the 10th day of December 1904, to determine whether or not the inhabitants of the territory herein after mentioned and described, should be incorporated for municipal purposes in accordance with the general laws of the State of Texas in reference to towns sand cities of more than one thousand inhabitants and examination thereof, and otherwise that said election was in all things held and conducted in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas, in reference thereto, and it further appearing from said returns that there were cast at said election in all 105 votes of which 87 were cast in favor of incorporation and 18 against giving a majority of 69 in favor of incorporation. It is therefore rendered, adjudged, decreed and declared that the inhabitants of the hereinafter described and designated territory are incorporated as a municipal corporation and for municipal purposes the name of which said corporation shall be "The City of Conroe".71

On January 25, 1905 an election was held to determine the election of the city officials. Those that were elected were Doctor J. F. Collier, Mayor, R. C. Herbert, City Marshal, W. N. Urquhart, D. C. Tharp, Pete West, John Wahrenberger, and J. Llewllyn, Aldermen. 72


In June 1901 a fire swept through Conroe and practically all of the business portion of the town was destroyed. The town had hardly been rebuilt when another fire visited it on February 22, 1911. Sixty-five places of business were destroyed.73 It has been stated by those who remember the fire that about four buildings were all that remained of the business section of town. They claimed that while it seemed quite a hardship then, it has proven to be one of the best things that ever happened to Conroe, for out of the ashes of the calamity the determined citizens built a new city of brick business houses, concrete walks, and a perfect water supply. 74


The people of Conroe had voted bonds in 1910 to erect a new school building for twenty thousand dollars. The contract had been let before the fire had destroyed the town, and on the morning after the fire the contractor of the new school got off the train at the depot and to his dismay looked across the smoldering ashes where Conroe had been. It is stated by one of the citizens that the contractor asked if they still intended to build the school building. He was told by the citizens that they did; therefore a new brick school went up right along with the new business houses. 75


This building was the first brick school built in Conroe. It was named the J. O. H. Bennette Building in honor of J. O. H. Bennette who had served the school district as president of the Board of Trustees for seventeen years. During his long tenure he contributed thousands of dollars of his own money to help equip and finance the school system of Conroe.76 This building stood at the site where the present day community center is now located.


In 1914 the Delta Land and Timber Company built a mill in Conroe which was the second largest lumber manufacturing plant in the South, and it was the most modern sawmill plant in Texas.77


Another industry of Conroe along about this time was a box factory organized by O. L. Alexander. Conroe also had several cross-tie mills, and when these mills were operating in full blast and the cross-ties were piled high at the intersection of both railroads a view from the air revealed in Conroe a huge cross.78 These local mills kept Conroe alive until oil was discovered in 1931.

Conroe's industry stayed much the same from after the first World War up to December 13, 1931 when George Strake, a young oil operator from St. Louis, struck oil on the Theodore Slade survey about three and half miles southeast of the town. 79 A report of the discovery was written in the local paper as follows: 

Oil excitement hit Conroe full force last week following movements at Strake well east of Conroe that have been interpreted by oil men as opening a new oil field, size and extent of which is to be determined.

Mr. Strake has drilled a hole about 5, 100 feet deep on the Theodore Slade survey and has set casing, assembled tools and he says he is preparing to try the test by Saturday or Sunday.

Oil men from Houston swarmed into Conroe and they broadcast information that oil sand of at least 35 feet had been struck, that a gas well of several million feet capacity is practically sure and a new oil field is a strong probability.80 

Strake's well did more for Conroe than anything that had happened in the history of the town. Overnight it became a thriving metropolis of wealth, resembling more a busy scene on the Stock Exchange floor, than a village supported chiefly by the farming and lumbering industries. Literally thousands of oil men came to Conroe from all parts of the country, all eager to get a slice of the rich find that Strake had made. In a short time the population of Conroe had grown from 2500 to a number estimated variously from five to fifteen thousand people. 81 Every facility of the town was taxed far beyond capacity. Tent cities and mushroom additions were built over night. Hotels were crowded and hundreds were turned away to seek shelter in Houston and other places.


The streets of the town were thronged, parking space was not to be had in the down town area, and at times it was very difficult to walk along the sidewalks in the business section. "Lease hounds" by the hundreds plied their trade and did a lucrative business. Representatives of major oil companies came, saw, and bought an interest in Conroe's field. Farmers who did not, under normal circumstances, come to town over twice each month, were seen from early morning until sunset in town, shopping. Money had been placed in their hands by the leasers so suddenly and unexpectedly, that many of them were at a loss to know what to do with it. So many oil men were searching out old deeds, land tracts, titles, and surveys that the courthouse was swamped and people looking through records had to stand in line and wait their turn. Hoarding in Conroe was a thing of the past, for all those who had anything to hoard took it and bought some royalty or a lease. Within a short time it was hard to find a tract of land within ten miles of the Strake discovery well that had not changed hands at least three times. 82


Conroe, unlike many of the other oil towns, did not let the taxable oil property and newly acquired wealth slip through her fingers. Immediately her civic-minded citizens took the opportunity to better their community. New business houses, schools, post office, courthouse, community center, and streets were built. Today Conroe boasts of having more paved streets than any other city of its size in the United States. It has a population of seven thousand three hundred thirteen, and unlike some of the other towns of the county, Conroe seems destined to be here to stay. 83


More On Conroe Texas

CONROE, TEXAS. Conroe, the county seat of Montgomery County, is on Interstate Highway 45 at the junction of the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads, seven miles southeast of Lake Conroe in central Montgomery County. In 1881 Houston lumberman Isaac Conroe established a sawmill on Stewarts Creek two miles east of the International-Great Northern Railroad's Houston-Crockett line on a tract of land in the J. G. Smith survey, first settled in the late 1830s. A small tram line connected the mill to the I&GN track, but Conroe soon transferred his operations down the tracks to the rail junction, where his new mill became a station on the I&GN. In January 1884 a post office was established at the mill commissary, and, at the suggestion of railroad official H. M. Hoxey, the community took the name Conroe's Switch, in honor of the Northern-born, former Union cavalry officer who founded it and served as its first postmaster; within a decade the name was shortened to Conroe.

In the mid-1880s the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway extended its Navasota-Montgomery spur eastward through the town, which thus became the only junction of major rail lines in the county. Conroe Mill School was established in 1886, and not long afterward the community's first black school was founded at Madeley Quarters, south of town. A lumber boom beginning in the late nineteenth century in the Piney Woods of eastern and central Montgomery County attracted scores of settlers to Conroe. By 1889 the population had climbed to an estimated 300. In that year Conroe replaced Montgomery as county seat. A residence donated by Isaac Conroe served as a temporary courthouse until a permanent brick structure could be erected in 1891. By the early 1890s Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist congregations were organized in the town; they initially shared a single house of worship. Simultaneously, black residents founded Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal congregations.

By 1892 the community had become a shipping center for lumber, cotton, livestock, and bricks, and had five steam-powered saw and planning mills, several brickyards, a cotton gin, a gristmill, several hotels and general stores, and a population of 500. The Conroe Independent School District was established in 1892, combining twelve nearby common school districts, and within a year a second white school was established in the town. By 1896 the community's first weekly newspaper, the Courier, had been founded.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Conroe briefly shipped local tobacco. In 1900 a four-room schoolhouse for white pupils of all grades was constructed, and the local black school was transferred to the building abandoned by the whites. Since 1900 most black residences have been in a district on the southeastern edge of town. In 1902 the town's first white high school class graduated. Three years later a public school library was established. In April 1903 a private coeducational vocational school for blacks was founded by Dr. Jimmie Johnson on a seven-acre tract in northeast Conroe and quickly began to attract students from around the state. Funds for support of the institution were solicited from black churches, conventions, and organizations throughout the nation; local white residents also made financial contributions to the school and provided its students with employment in their homes and businesses. By the end of World War Iqv the college's enrollment had climbed above 400.

By 1900 Conroe was Montgomery County's largest community. It was incorporated in 1904 with a population of 1,009, and its first mayor and city council were elected the following year. In 1906 the first electric lighting appeared in the town when an electrical generating plant was constructed on nearby Stewarts Creek. About 1910 the community's first Catholic church was constructed, and the first black public school was established. Over the next two decades the Conroe Independent School District was expanded to encompass twenty-five square miles. Some 617 pupils were enrolled in the district by 1913. Six years later the first black high school in Conroe was established.

The prosperity of the local agriculture and timber industries in the early twentieth century enabled Conroe to continue its rapid early growth despite severe fires in 1901 and 1911, which destroyed much of the business district near the courthouse square. Southwest of town in 1913 the Delta Land and Timber Company established one of the most extensive milling operations in the South; the company eventually employed 700 people. In addition to its many churches and schools, by 1914 Conroe had two banks, five grocery and hardware stores, two dry-goods stores, two drugstores, a cotton gin, a waterworks, a planning mill, numerous sawmills, box factories, cross-tie mills, two weekly newspapers, the Courier and the Montgomery County Times, and an estimated population of 1,374. The population continued to climb for the next several years, reaching an estimated 1,858 in the mid-twenties and an estimated 2,457 by 1931.

A sanitarium was established in Conroe in 1920. The community acquired its first fire truck in 1921, and two years built its first fire station. In 1922 the courthouse grounds became the scene of communal violence when a black mill worker accused of rape was lynched. In the mid-1920s the Dr Pepper Company opened a soft-drink plant in the community. In 1925 the Conroe Independent School District was enlarged to its present size, 330 square miles, with the inclusion of fifteen rural common schools and 600 additional pupils scattered through central and southern Montgomery County. Children from discontinued schools were transported in private buses to schools in Conroe.

After years of sustained growth, the town's prosperity was threatened in the late 1920s by the dwindling of the improperly managed local timber supply. Then in 1930 the spreading effects of the Great Depression struck Montgomery County, drastically curtailing lumber production and forcing many mills to close. In November 1930 Conroe's only bank abruptly failed and pushed many residents and institutions into financial doldrums for many years. Faced with precipitous declines in revenue, Conroe's schools struggled to complete full terms. But the community's fortunes began to improve on December 13, 1931, when George W. Strake discovered oil seven miles southeast of town, thus marking the opening of the Conroe oilfield and triggering an oil boom in the county. Within weeks the local economy had revived, as many petroleum wholesalers, retailers, and service companies and thousands of workers entered the town. By 1933 the population was an estimated 5,000, and eighty-four business were reported in the community. The Conroe school district, rescued from financial distress by the discovery of oil within its boundaries, became one of the wealthiest in the state, and its enrollment began to grow rapidly. A new black high school was built in 1933, and a new white elementary school and a junior high were soon constructed. A community center and a swimming pool were completed by the district in the early 1940s.

The oil revenues and population influx of the 1930s lent Conroe a boomtown atmosphere. It briefly claimed more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States. During the early 1930s streets were paved for the first time, and U.S. Highway 75 was extended through the town. The thirty-seven-room State Hotel was completed in 1933. The ornate Crighton Theater was erected on the courthouse square in 1935. In 1936 a new courthouse was constructed, and two years later a county hospital was completed not far from the courthouse square. That year the population surged to an estimated 10,000, but it soon began to subside as production in the Conroe oilfield crested and began a gradual decline. By 1941 the population stood at an estimated 4,624.

During World War II the town's lumber industry revived, but it never regained its earlier preeminence and lapsed into a steady decline after 1950. Its former position was increasingly assumed by chemical firms, including a carbon black factory (see CARBON BLACK INDUSTRY) and a recycling plant, established after the oil discovery. The Montgomery County Airport, three miles northeast of town on Farm Road 1484, was constructed during the war as a military facility but since 1945 has served as a local airfield. In 1946 the Montgomery County Library was established in Conroe. A new black high school constructed in the early 1950s remained the pride of the black community until Conroe's schools were desegregated in 1968. By 1952 Conroe had a population estimated at 7,313 and 340 businesses. The population climbed to an estimated 9,192 in 1961 and 11,969 in 1972.

With the construction of Interstate Highway 45, increasing numbers of Houstonians took up residence on the margins of Conroe. Lake Conroe was impounded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, seven miles northwest on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, further stimulating local growth. In addition to the familiar lumber and petrochemical concerns, a number of new manufacturing and engineering firms have been established in Conroe. The population reached an estimated 18,034 by 1982. Conroe Independent School District had an enrollment of 8,873 in 1971 and 15,112 by 1976. In 1980 the district employed 1,200 teachers in twenty-eight schools. Conroe Normal and Industrial College has struggled for survival since the depression; by 1980 enrollment had been reduced to 176. In the 1980s Conroe had two hospitals, a nursing home, ten medical clinics, nineteen churches, three radio stations, a television station, a cab company, e new sewage treatment plant, and a newspaper named the Daily Courier. The population grew to 27,610 by 1990.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robin Navarro Montgomery, The History of Montgomery County (Austin: Jenkins, 1975). Montgomery County Genealogical Society, Montgomery County History (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter, 1981). The Choir Invisible: An Early History of Montgomery County, by Montgomery, Texas: Montgomery Historical Society.


Historical Facts of Downtown Conroe


| Home Top |Biography of Isaac Conroe| Isaac Conroe's Home |
|Isaac Conroe: Lumberman Pioneered City |
 Isaac Conroe House |
| Isaac Conroe's Obituary |Margaret Richardson Conroe Obituary |
Isaac Conroe: Enterprising Pioneer Who Put Our Town on the Map |


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