The county seat in 1849 was in Burkeville, Texas, and it was there that the county court met. Burkeville is another one of those towns near the Sabine River that began with the letter “B.” Burkeville is one of the oldest communities in the county that has continued in existence as a trading center from its founding. The site is located on Little Cow Creek in northern Newton County ten miles west of the Sabine River and about eighty-five miles from the Gulf Coast. The town was laid out by John R. Burke in 1844, but tradition has it that the community had settlers in 1821. Another source states that there were six families living there in 1813. The name of Burkeville first appears on a post office list in 18 56. John R. Burke, for whom the town is named, was by birth an Englishman, having been born in Liverpool, England, in 1792. He came with his parents to New York while very young. He was an educated man, and able to speak four languages. He brought with him to Burkeville, books, fine furniture, silver, china, and even a piano was brought up from New Orleans on a flat boat. He built a fine house in Burkeville, and it was approximately 100 years old when it was dismantled.
During a county’s history there are usually many shifts in centers of interest and/or industrial centers. One feature that adds to size and importance to a town is being the seat of its government. This order was written in the February 20, 1849, court minutes. Ordered, by the County Court that J. S. Thompson, Richard Simmons & Isaac McMahon be appointed to superintend to the building of the Court house with the means appropriated for that purpose by subscription and the sale of the Town lots.
Burkeville was the county seat of Newton County from 1848 until 1853. There seem to be three stages of development in Burkeville history. The first was the settlement period in which the community developed from a few families into a small trading center with some two or three stores, a post office, two churches, and several homes. The second stage extended from the Reconstruction Era until the end of the lumbering operations in 1942.
The third period began with the cessation of the mill at Wiergate. Immediately after World War I a large sawmill was built three miles away at Wiergate by the Wier Long-Leaf Lumber Company. For the next twenty-five years the lumber industry dominated the economic lives of the people. New homes and new businesses were built in Burkeville and there was an influx of scholastics, churches, and trade.
The people of Burkeville were interested in establishing school very early in its existence. The first school in Burkeville was taught by Mr. W. B. Burnham in the old Methodist Church. Prior to this time educational training was left to individuals or a few neighbors who could secure a teacher to instruct a small group of pupils for a few months. Usually the teacher was paid in part by products and board. After the passage of the school law of 1854, Newton County used its pro rata part of available funds to pay for public education. The County Commissioners’ Court would appoint a trustee to receive the money and pay for instruction. Similar schools were held until 1880. Teachers began to be certified by being able to pass a county teacher’s examination which was given orally by a board of examiners, as early as 1867.
Since the 1 % property tax passed by the Texas Legislature was not enough to finance a school and buildings, a corporation was formed in Burkeville and sold stock to finance more funds for the Blum Male and Female College. Mr. Leon Blum, a merchant in Galveston, Texas, purchased the greater amount of stock, and it was from him that the college got its name. The capital stock was $20,000 which divided into 4000 shares of $5 each. The charter was filed with the State on February 26, 1880, and the school was in session until 1905. At that time it became a public school. In 1912 the Burkeville School received the classification of high school first class. In 1919 it became an independent school district.
The town of Burkeville has had its prosperous periods and its periods of decline. In the early settlement period people crossed the Sabine River on ferryboats which were located along the river at intervals of ten to fifteen miles.
Burkeville first got its mail from Orange, Texas, delivered by one carrier from Orange to Buck Holmes; then one carrier from Buck Holmes to Newton; then from Newton to Burkeville.
Cotton was a major product in the period after the Civil War. Several cotton gins operated in Burkeville. The early ones were powered by water mills. One of the places of more than average historical interest is the site of the Watt Wilson Water Mill on McGraw Creek. In December 1942 Wiergate sawmill cut its last virgin pine log and ceased to operate. Many people found themselves suddenly without jobs, and the area entered a period of economic decline. This condition has been offset somewhat by added interests in farming, stock raising, poultry farming, revival of small industries, and employment in plants along the Gulf Coast.
Diversified farming has been practiced throughout the town’s history. Fertile land is plentiful in the area surrounding Burkeville. Thousands of acres of bottom land near the Sabine River have never been cleared of forests. Large sections of upland and creek valleys arc awaiting the farmer’s plow.