HOOD COUNTY, TEXAS
by Mary L. Watkins – January 1975
Prior to the War Between the States, the center of the present day agricultural community of Acton was known as the Comanche Peak Post Office, Comanche Peak, / P.O., a designation chosen for its proximity to the highest point in the area some three or four miles to the west of Acton, Comanche Peak — a mesa clearly visible from the Acton community. Between Comanche Peak P.O. and Comanche Peak lay the Brazos River. Its fertile valley provided ample food and water for early travelers, and on its east bank the newcomers were relatively safe from marauding Indians. The Comanche Peak P.O. site was, therefore, a sensible terminal for settlers seeking a home in the west.
Moreover, the site was near (if not on) the old Spanish Trail which came up from South Texas and crossed the Brazos River near the present site of Granbury. This was probably the trail followed by the Butler and Lewis Expedition which set out from New Orleans Oct. 22, 1845, to make peace with the Indians. The Expedition got lost and ended up in Oklahoma. Meantime the Congress of the United States had voted to bring Texas into the Union; so by the following March when the Expedition finally arrived back at Comanche Peak for the appointed meeting with the Nations, there was the important news that henceforth the Nations would be dealing not with the Republic of Texas, but with the President of the United States who had sent gifts. The Comanche, Deleware [sic], Creek, Cherokee, Wichita, and Wacoan tribes were represented by their Chiefs and others camped on and around Comanche Peak. (Details of this meeting can be read in The History of Comanche Peak, Vance Maloney.)
Previous to these attempted negotiations, Sam Houston had met on October 9, 1844, with Chief Buffalo Hump and Chief Old Owl in an attempt to define the line between the Indian hunting grounds and Texas proper. The Chiefs wanted the line to begin on the Brazos River and pass directly over Comanche Peak on its way south to the first stream west of the Colorado River below the San Saba, plus three days ride on a fast horse. (Frank Tolbert’s Informal History of Texas.) Such a demarcation would, it appears, have put San Marcus [sic] in Indian territory, and Mr. Houston could not agree to it.
Nevertheless, these conferences do establish the fact that Comanche Peak was well known by name and by location to both the Anglos and the Indians in the early days of Texas, and that the Comanche Trail passed along the west bank of the Brazos River at that point (a mile or two south of Granbury). It seems quite natural, therefore, that the first white settlement within sight of the mesa should be called Comanche Peak — even though that settlement was across the river from the Peak.
The Comanche Peak P.O., later the Acton Square, was never a thriving business location. It was not on a waterway, a railroad, or even later on a major highway. Acton was and is the community center of a loosely knit agricultural area.
In his 1895, History of Hood County, T. T. Ewell writes, “In those ante-bellum days (half forgotten by the survivors) there were in this section many men in connection with whose lives and conduct doubtless many incidents of interest worthy to be recorded existed; but so vaguely remembered as to defy absolute verification.”
We know only that men came west and settled at Acton, were followed by their families and friends, and by 1855 had formed an isolated but fairly strong little community. There were Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Reformed christians who built a church near Walnut Creek for services held once a month. Between this Union Church and Buchanan, then the seat of Johnson County, there was 15 miles of uninhabitated prarie [sic]. Adjacent to the church was a cemetery where they buried first “the wife of Mr. Wash. Hutchinson.”
In the fall of 1855, Aaron Farris settled a mile below the church to build a water mill and a still house. Presumably the community was then complete, since in 1856 it was granted a U.S. Post Office named Comanche Peak. The first postmaster was James Plemmons.
In May of 1857, Clarence P. Hollis was named postmaster. According to Ewell, the village of Acton was given its name by a Mr. Hollis, its first merchant; yet not until March of 1868 was the post office known as Acton. We postulate, therefore, that sometime between 1859 (James Allison replaced Hollis as postmaster) and 1867 (see deed ref. to Acton Square) the town of Acton was laid out and the Square donated by Clarence P. Hollis. (Hood County courthouse burned in 1875 and records were destroyed.)
Acton was never incorporated. It never concerned itself with lawmaking bodies or taxes or sewage or city water systems. The people lived apart — independent, self reliant, yet giving freely to one another in time of need or stress. And the town was their gathering place. By horseback, buggy, and wagon, later by car, the solitary farm and ranch families came into Acton for mail, a few modest supplies, and to hear the gospel preached on Sunday. There were singings and cemetery workings, burials and lodge meetings. Acton remained a community, a place called home, and the Square is its symbol.
The people of Acton want to mark their Square. It is the central point of the oldest settlement in Hood County, Texas.
Ewell’s History of Hood County devotes six chapters to the pioneer settlement of Acton, pages 35 through 52. The stories written here and the people named are too colorful and too numerous to be summarized. The revised edition of this History contains additional material on pages H-109 and H-110. Pages H-62 and 63 outline the lives of Charles Barnard, “father of the Acton Lodge,” and his wife who was captured by Comanche Indians.
Pages 98, 99, and 100 of Ewell’s work tell the story of the Acton Masonic Institute, a Greek Revival stone structure presently being re-built by the Episcopal church. The grave of Elizabeth Crockett, wife of Davey Crockett of Alamo fame, is within a stone’s throw of the old Masonic Institute. This gravesite, in the Acton Cemetery, has the distinction of being the smallest state park in Texas.
Five years ago the Brazos River Authority completed a dam across the Brazos River at DeCordova Bend (a bend of the river named for Joseph de Cordova who owned that land in the early days), creating a lake 34 miles long. The dam site is below Acton, but residential development is occurring all the way up the lakeshore to Granbury. For the most part, the new residents are retired people and commuters seeking a rural life-style. They are being absorbed into the community with a minimum of change.
Pecan Plantation and De Cordova Bend Estates built by the Leonard brothers (of the Fort Worth store by the same name) are perhaps the only two “typically upper-middle-class suburban developments” in the area. Their ubiquitous golf courses and country clubs surrounded by 50 x 100 foot lots serve a need and have made it possible for many week-end people to build lovely homes in the area.
In general, however, and in spite of the affluent times, the rural pioneer spirit prevails. Even the lake was built by private enterprize [sic]. There is no federal money in it, so the people can own and care for their land right up to the water’s edge — a condition which makes for a minimum of empty cans and picnic trash.
The Acton Public Square is still the center of a typically Texas rural community. The people may bank in Granbury, shop in Fort Worth and Dallas, vacation in Canada, Mexico, or Europe — but Acton is still the place called home.
History of Hood County – written by Thomas T. Ewell in 1895, reprinted with pictorial additions and updated text by the Junior Woman’s Club of Granbury, 1970. (Original and revised editions, pp. 35 through 52.)
History of Comanche Peak – written and privately published by Vance Maloney, founding Chairman of the Hood County Historical Survey Committee. Mr. Maloney gathered the material to secure a Texas Landmark for the Peak, but he was not content with the material available to him at that time. He continued his research even after the Peak was marked, finally bringing together a wealth of documented history contained in his soft-cover book, copies of which have been sent to several University libraries and to the Texas Archives.
Personal interviews and comments by Randle Rash, present Chairman of the Hood County Historical Committee and resident of the Acton community, and by the writer, Mary L. Watkins, member of this Committee. See also attached postal information letter from the National Archives, certified survey of the Acton Square, photocopies of hand-written deeds, and recent newspaper articles (Burl McClellan, Village Weekly 8/8/1974).