The exhibit “Texas and the American Revolution” in the halls of the county courthouse shows how Texans had a part in the American Revolution although in 1776 Texas was only a minor, sub-province of New Spain. What is called the American Revolution was but the first stage of the Revolutions of the Americas. Within 50 years after 1776, the greater part of the Western hemisphere was free of European rule, and Texas had a stake in three of these revolutions. The exhibit consists of eight columns of silk-screened words and pictures. The tallest columns are nearly nine feet high; others arc over six feet. The display was produced by the research and exhibits staff of the Institute of Texan Cultures of San Antonio, an educational research arm of the University of Texas. The show is a result of almost five years of planning, research, design, and fabrication.
The city of Newton, county scat town, has a history all its own. Most cities and towns have been located at strategic places where families and/or settlers found was a convenient place to live or easy to make a living. Newton was created as a place to locate a county seat. Conflict, controversy, court action, committee surveys, and the process of free election are all a part of the story of Newton, Texas. The components of making a town that is distinctively American can all be found in this Newton’s history.
Newton County has a heritage that belongs to the month of April. The Texas State Legislature meeting in the month of April, 1846, created the county of Newton along with 31 other new counties. Newton, Texas, the county seat, is in central Newton County. It was selected as the county seat in 1853 because it was near the center of the county.
After its selection as county seat, Major John Moore built the first house, and later he contracted to build the first courthouse in Newton. The town prospered as the seat of government, and gradually the population and business concerns increased.
In 1889 the W.H. Ford Male and Female College was chartered and classes began in September under J.F. Syler as president. It was removed to the town square in 1908 and was used as a hotel. Captain E.D. Downs, a native of Georgia, served as the President of the Board of Directors of Ford College and was a prominent figure in the affairs of Newton. He engaged in farming, served several terms as sheriff and tax collector, and organized the Newton County Tram Company with headquarters in Old Trotti near Bon Wier. His company utilized the Sabine River in floating pine logs to the market in Orange. From that time until the present, lumbering has been the main industry of Newton.
The members of the State Legislature must have admired the beautiful bluebonnets and other wild flowers along the countryside as they journeyed to Austin in 1846 for the session of the legislature. They made the month of April ever dear to the citizens of Newton County that year because on the 22nd day of April in 1846, the Texas State Legislature created Newton County.
The real development of Newton began after the railroad came. In 1913, there were fifteen mercantile establishments; a photographic studio; a sawmill with a daily capacity of 75,000 feet; a turpentine camp called the Western Navel Stores Company which was a $100,000 concern, employed 250 men and a payroll of $150,000; a logging camp which employed 300 men and had a payroll of $125,000; and a handle factory which produced 1,500 finished handles per day.
The county seat of Newton County is a town of 2,119 people. It has been a town that was built for the purpose of being the seat of government. Most often the biggest or most conveniently located town already in existence is selected for the county scat, but the site for the county scat was chosen and then the town began to build and grow. Mercantile establishments, public service concerns, and farming in the nearby communities have all contributed to the growth of the town. The first bank in Newton was started in 1906 and called the Newton County Bank. It was located in the old Hardy Building. The Newton County Bank was owned by Geo. W. Riddle. In 1913 another bank was chartered for Newton, but it merged with the Newton County Bank, and they became the Newton County State Bank. In 1926 the present bank, The First National Bank, Newton, Texas was chartered. The First National Bank of Newton celebrated its Golden Anniversary with an Open House on March 3, 4, 5, 1976, during banking hours. The Open House featured a Gold Display in the lobby of the bank and Joe Stokes of Port Arthur showed his Rare Coin Collection. Refreshments were served to the guests. The slogan used by the First National Bank is “Small Enough to Appreciate; Large Enough to Accommodate.” The bank was first chartered September 1, 1914, as Newton County State Bank and was purchased and re-chartered March 6, 1926, which is the anniversary that was observed. Bank President Joe Wilkinson Jr. expressed pride in the bank which has grown in size to $10 million assets. Brad Herndon is Vice-president and Cashier. Since World War II there has been considerable development in livestock farming, poultry production, pulpwood production, oil production, and reforestation. Many of Newton’s people run small businesses, and others work in industries in the coastal area.