Splendora, Texas, in East Montgomery County, is location at the junction of U.S. Highway 59 and FM 2090 on the Southern Pacific Rail Road. The town was originally founded in 1896 when, at the behest of Charles Claiborne Cox, the Houston East & West Texas Railway constructed a spur here while simultaneously replacing its narrow-gauge rails with standard-gauge. Briefly referred to in 1896 as Cox Switch, this settlement of dirt farmers and timber workers in "The Wildwoods" had been populated for at least 30 years prior to Cox's arrival in 1892. The Splendora Cemetery itself reveals five marked graves between 1885 and 1891.
The earliest documented residents of this settlement were Jeremiah Prophet Duke, Ethelred Thomas Carr, Jessie P. Carter, William Washington Burrow, Virgil C. Sallee, James Daniel Yarbrough, William Jeremiah Richardson, Robert Bruce Tullis Sr., Isham S. Herndon, James Thomas Flowers, Samuel L. Lucas, and brothers, John Wesley and William Henry Johnson.
In the wake of the Houston East & West Texas Railway's bankruptcy in 1894, the largest portion of the company's stock and investment had been acquired by the Southern Pacific Railway. It was during this time that the narrow-gauge rails were replace, the spur at Splendora was constructed, and the town of Splendora was founded. It has long been claimed that Splendora was given its name by Milton Zebulon King for the "splendor of its flora and fauna."
M. Z. King, the first postmaster and school teacher in the Splendora settlement, came here in 1894 and left by 1898; eventually ending up in Beckham Co., OK by 1905 and remaining there until his death in 1951. While living at Splendora King had a short-lived partnership with C.C. Cox in a small general store. This store was liquidated at about the same time King left the area and the building and property were sold by King to William Washington Burrow.
W. W. Burrow had been running somewhat of a private store out of his home, handling mostly dry goods like flour, sugar amd salt, while the King-Cox outlet was more of a general store offering items like wood-burning stove, garments, farm tools and bicycles. Burrow's name would become synonymous with early business growth at Splendora. He operated his store for almost 30 years before handing all of the business down to his three sons (Thaudie, Fred and James) who continued the business as owner, clerk and bookkeeper.
The new rails at Splendora ran parallel with the main street through the entire length of the settlement. People walked, rode horses and bicycles and drove wagons and buggies along the tracks. On Sunday everyone turned out to meet the train at the depot. The train was the only connection with Houston and the main means of communication, bringing the mail, packages, payroll, and visitors.
In 1928 the county bought a right of way through Splendora and later constructed a paved road that eventually became US Highway 59. This road, one of the oldest in southeast Texas, was once referred to as the Old Nacogdoches Road if you were traveling north from Houston or the Old Houston Road if you were traveling south from Nacogdoches. It was improved in 1935 and became State Highway 35, was improved again in 1959 and became Highway 59.
The first church was a 30' X 50' structure adjacent to the cemetery, built in 1895 on William Patton's land. Preachers from various denominations alternated preaching, until 1903 when the Greenleaf Missionary Baptist Church was organized. In 1905 Mrs. Mollie M. Patton deeded 5 acres for the Greenleaf Church. This original church building was also used as the first school in the area, with Professor Pickens Rutledge Clarke, as instructor. A new two-room school was built in 1913 in a fruit orchard Charles Cox donated. There were about fifty students enrolled. The enrollment was 65 in 1925 and 170 in 1932-33. On October 27, 1936 the school was partially burned and several local churches offered the use of their buildings to complete the school year. A new eight room brick building was completed for the following year. This building, which has often been referred to as "The Alamo" because of its remarkable resemblance to that famous mission, has since been torn down to "make room for progress."
Jeremiah Prophet (Jerry) and Mary Elizabeth Tullis Duke arrived in the area about 1879. They settled on land the government was giving to families to farm. Jerry built a log house after clearing the land and they farmed, hunted and traded for items they couldn't grow or make themselves. Mary was a mid-wife also. She traveled all over Montgomery County on horseback to care for the ill or deliver a child.
Charles Cox came from Minnesota in 1892. He had the Post Office in one room of his home. The large house was near the depot and a common gathering place for the townspeople. They came to get the mail, catch up on the news and see if there were any boarders from off the train each day. The Cox family was a large one and their dinner table was always filled with extra guests. There was always something to entertain the young folks.
William Jeremiah Richardson came with his family in a covered wagon to Brazoria Co., TX from Bienville Par., LA in 1884; eventually settling at Splendora in 1893. The Richardson's were charter members of the Greenleaf Church. William served as Justice of the Peace from 1897-1902 and again from 1904-1909. His wife, Julia, was the first mid-wife in this area.
John Wesley Johnson and his wife, Mary Cowart, moved their family from the west side of the county sometime after the Civil War. He bought land about five miles east and south of current FM 2090 where he farmed and planted a large orchard. He also worked in local sawmills and did other timber work.
Robert Monroe Coleman married Mary Palice (Mollie), one of the Johnson daughters, in 1892. After much moving about, they were able to purchase 160 acres at $1.00 an acre near Mollie's parents. Monroe's livelihood was farming and stock. Cash money was received from the sale of cattle on drives into Houston. The dipping vat, to help control disease in all the area cattle, was located behind the old Coleman homestead. Because of its importance, the government provided some of the supplies.
James Thomas Flowers moved here from Collin Co., TX in 1899. He served as Justice of the Peace at Splendora 1915-1916. James built a home on what is now known as "the old Uncle Jerry Duke place." In 1909 James bought 179.5 acres from William Patton for $2.00 an acre. The First Baptist Church is now located on part of this property. Their new home was constructed from trees cut off the Duke place and made into lumber. The "downtown" area was almost prairie at that time.
William Patton moved here in 1902 from Willis in the western part of the county. He was one of the area's first real estate investors and when someone wanted to sell their property, he bought it and later resold it. His son, Hugh Lee Patton, the famous oil-well firefighter, continued to develop and invest in real estate. Patton Village, which had a population of 1,391 on the 2000 census, is one of his developments.
Virgil and Mary Sallee arrived in Splendora in about 1902. Like many other residents, Virgil's main source of income was making ties for the railroad. He also sold wood, hunted and farmed. In her later years, Mary became a mid-wife. In 1936 "Grandma Sallee" charged $5.00 to deliver a baby, where the doctor charged $25.00. Either would accept in-kind payment of food in exchange for their services. Virgil and Mary's son Albert and his wife, Blanche Westcott, were teachers at Splendora for many years and Albert was a former superintendent; having taught at the Dayton School in Liberty Co., TX in his earlier years, where he met his future wife.
Hardy and Alma Lucas were also charter members of the Greenleaf Baptist Church in 1903. Hardy became a licensed Baptist minister in 1915 and preached at Splendora 1917-1924. By the mid-1930s the Lucas' broke their ties with the Baptist denomination and Hardy received an ordainment from the Assemblies of God in 1938. He and Alma founded the first apostolic church at Splendora which exists to this day.
It was 1939 before Gulf States came through Splendora and sometime after that before they got "electric" lights. In spite of the lack of electricity and running water, Splendora did have a few modern conveniences. In the 1930s the W.P.A. put in some cement toilets. On the outside they looked like any other outdoor toilet except from the back. This kind had a cement tank down in the ground and a cement floor.
Some of the locals remember businesses that are now gone, including the barbeque place John Sallee built in 1925 and the Dance Hall he added in 1927, just south of the section house. He hired bands from Cleveland and surrounding communities for entertainment. There was plenty of barbeque for everyone but who knows what they had to drink, as this was during prohibition. John rented the building out in the 1930s and it was turned into a radio repair shop. He also built a gas station just north of the section house on Old 59. In 1930, Wash Burrow built businesses for his sons: a gas station and garage for Fred; a grocery store for Lee and a dry goods store for Ed. Wilbur Lee Burrow built a motion picture theatre in Splendora in the 1940s. He showed movies, and sometimes had live entertainment on the stage. It is said that he would often film the daily activities of people in town and show them at the theatre occasionally. Eugene (Pud) and Betty Daw built a cafe' next to the theater in the early 1950s.
Splendora was incorporated by the State of Texas in 1966 and Pud Daw was appointed first mayor.
Each year Splendora residents observe and honor those pioneers with the annual Founder's Day Festival, held the second Saturday of May in Town Square.