The Story of Ferris, TexasApril 28, 2023
The Earliest Settlement
The McKnights, the Andrews, Mr. McFarlin and Colonel Berry formed a caravan that left Tennessee in September 1851 to settle in Texas, and drove through to their new homes on the bleak prairie. The McFarlins settled on land near Lancaster; Colonel Berry took his family farther south to Navarro County; and the McKnights and Andrews arrived on their land on December 23, 1851. Original Patent No. 155, Vol. 6 was purchased March 30, 1850 for $3,680 by Ephraim Andrews, his son, John M. Andrews and son-in-law, S.H.A. McKnight of Rutherford County, Tennessee.
This covered a “league and a labor” – 4,605 acres on 26 labors. The land was between ten Mile Creek, Bear Creek and west of the Trinity River, about 10% being in Dallas County and the rest in Navarro County in what soon became Ellis County. The settled area soon became known as McKnight-Andrews Corner. The lad was divided between the Andrews and the McKnights.
Those settling here included:
Ephraim Andrews and his wife, Margaret M. Andrews, and their unmarried children: Jane Isabelle Andrews, Margaret Lavina Andrews. Emily Tabitha Andrews (twin). and Rebecca (Pet) Polemma Andrews (twin)
Samuel H. Adolphus McKnight and his wife, Mary E. Andrews and a 3-year-old daughter, Mary.
John M. Andrews and his wife, Sarah Jane McKnight and their 2-year-old son, David E. Andrews.
George David Andrew McKnight and his wife, Eleanor F. Andrews and their 1 year old son, John Thaddeus McKnight, together with a colored servant named Henry.
Miss Eleanor Andrews, unmarried sister of Ephraim Andrews, who died in Ferris on July 1, 1856.
Miss Jane (Jennie) Andrews, unmarried sister of Ephraim Andrews, who also died in Ferris on September 23, 1869.
Also, another colored servant named Lavon.
David Andrews, the 3-year-old son of John M. Andrews and Sarah Jane McKnight was the first to die in the Colony, being buried September 17, 1852 on land given by his father for a cemetery, which is now know as Ferris Memorial Park, South. Another son, James A. L. Andrews was born in 1852 and was to marry Nancy C. Mackey. The mother, Sarah Jane McKnight Andrews died November 2, 1853 and was the second death in the Colony. Later John Andrews married Mary H. McElroy. Their two sons died in infancy; their daughter, Sarah Jane born in 1861, married Edward Cox. John Andrews was a Major in the Confederate Army.
S.H.A. McKnight and Mary E. Andrews had 4 more girls. However, the 4 oldest girls died young and their tombstones show “Here Lies Four Little Sisters.” The youngest daughter, Lockie, who was born in 1863, married W. A. Baird.
G.D.A. McKnight and his wife, Eleanor F. Andrews had another son, William E.M. McKnight, born in 1852, but he never married.
Jane Isabelle Andrews was a young lady in 1851 (17) when they arrived. She married Robert B. Kooken. They had 3 children but only Clara Kate and Charles lived to maturity.
Margaret Lovina Andrews was almost 14 when they arrived. She later married George R. Clayton and they had one daughter, Sarah.
The twins, Emily Tabitha and Rebecca (Pet) Polemma were younger yet. They eventually married brothers, John and James Goble.
In April, 1858 a group of pioneer families met in the farm home of Ephraim Andrews and organized a Cumberland Presbyterian Church with the following 13 charter members:
Ephraim Andrews Jane Andrews Kooken
Margaret M. Andrews Robert B. Kooken
Margaret L. Andrews Eley Pruitt
John M. Andrews Narcissa Gipson
Mary H. Andrews Eleanor F. McKnight
Rebecca P. Andrews Mary F. McKnight
They worshipped in various farm homes, the Bear Creek School house and the Antioch school building (about one and one-half miles northwest of Ferris). S.H.A. McKnight was Church Clerk from 1858 until 1873. In 1860 the Rev. R.D. King ordained John M. Andrews and S.H.A. McKnight as Elders in the Bear Creek Cong. School House, Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1875 they moved the church to Ferris and a frame building was erected on the present site and used until destroyed by a cyclone in 1889. A second building was immediately constructed on the same site. Later, the church building was moved immediately north and the present brick structure erected.
Farming was the primary business for many years, including the raising of grain, cotton and cattle. Wild deer, turkey, panthers and wolves were plentiful.
Another Large Migration at Ferris
In September, or October 1870, the Duff-Green-McDaniel caravan left Pontotoc County, Mississippi with 13 families. They settled just west of Ferris near Bluff Springs. Charles Edward Pratt was also with this caravan. In October 1897 on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Mrs. Mary Jane Duff McDaniel, there was a family gathering at the home of “Doc” Green, west of town, to which some 92 people attended and had their picture made. The descendants include the following families: Kooken, Green, Weatherford, Orr, Tigrett, Pratt, Duff, McDaniel, Sanders, Wilson, Stovall, Westbrook, Stanford, McCord, Ewing, Rice, House, Malloy, Milom, McKnight, Lovett, Wester, and many others.
Building the Community
Under an agreement dated March 22, 1868, the Andrews family deeded 100 acres of land to four trustees for use as a railway station and the establishment of a town. Judge Justus Wesley Ferris of Waxahachie handled this transaction and the town was named for him. On September 28, 1874, the Trustees deeded the land for the Railroad Reservation, as shown on a map drawn by Theo. Kosse, to the Houston and Texas Central Railroad Company.
Jack Straw’s Store was for a long time, the only general merchandise store in the McKnight Colony. Pencil and Doty’s Mercantile was the first real business institution established in February 1874.
George Smith, father of Mrs. Tommie (Jules) Brignon, was the operator of the first hotel, The Smith Hotel, circa 1870. It later became the King Hotel.
The Houston and Texas Central Railroad was completed from Corsicana to Dallas in July 1872. Robert P. Mackey was the first depot agent in 1874. Mrs. Sewell was telegraph operator.
Jackson J. Straw was appointed the first postmaster on June 22, 1874. The post office was located in his store. Prior to this the mail had come from Waxahachie and later from Lancaster, according to the Federal Postal Service, Washington, D.C.
In 1880, John V. Mutz and George E. Cassidy moved a cotton gin from Prairie Valley near Wilmer to Ferris, and formed the Mutz & Cassidy Gin Co. In 1914, the name was changed to Merchants and Planters Gin Co. It was discontinued about 1957.
In 1882, the W. J. Green Furniture and Undertaking Company was established by W. J. Green, who had come from Mississippi in 1870. It was continued by his sons, Henderson R. Green and Franklin Green, and grandsons, Wister J. Green and Floyd Green.
An election was held September 18, 1882 to incorporate the Town of Ferris. The poll list consisted of 47 names including these: J. A. Sweatt, E. M. Cox, C. F. Kooken, Dr. Albert Welch, J.A.L. Andrews, G. A. Turner, J. A. Stout, N. J. Doty, G. E. Cassidy, E. M. Atkins, Jules Brignon, N. C. Wright, R. A. Finley, J.K.F. Smith, J. R. Estes, T. J. Weatherford, A. E. Cox, J. V. Mutz, J. H. Holloway, W. J. Green, G. W. Jordan, J. Gibson, and others. There were 34 votes cast for the incorporation and 13 against. J. H. Holloway was manager of the election, and Mr. W. J. Green and Mr. E. M. Atkins served as election judges. This petition of more than 20 residents was approved by the County Judge on September 30, 1882. On July 15, 1901, the Town Council of the Town of Ferris voted by more than two thirds to abolish the incorporation of the Town of Ferris and accept the provisions of the State Statutes regarding incorporation and thereafter to be known as the City of Ferris. John H. Smith was Mayor. The Aldermen signing the ordinance were A. A. McCrary, T. G. Cole, L. Hopkins, C. A. Weatherford and J. E. Pierce. They were enabled to do this because the census of May 6, 1901 showed over 1,000 inhabitants in the town.
More Business Enterprises
In 1884, Mutz & Cassidy dug a deep artesian well. They used an 8’ casing and went to a depth of 1,435 feet. Their two storage tanks held between 800 and 900 gallons. The well flowed so freely and furnished such good water that it was made available to others and eventually bought by the City.
A newspaper was established in September 1889 by Charles Wood and called “The Ferris Cyclone.” It was sold about 1893 to Prof. A. C. Speer and Whit Crum and the name changed to “The Ferris Sentinel.” Again sold Oct. 12, 1893 to W. V. Ervin. The name was changed Aug 10, 1895 to “The Ferris Wheel.” an idea of Frank Ezzell who was working on the paper and eventually bought it May 1, 1897. Ezzell sold the paper in Feb. 1916 to S. W. Adams, who sold it in 1817 to Ernest Logsden. Other owners and editors have been H. O. Beasley, Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Inmon, W. L. Martin, Wm. A. and Metha Sprinkle, Joe H. Whittenburg, Tommy Fallon, Don McGregor and Winnon Smith.
Carpenter, Crum and Henry established the first privately owned bank prior to 1890. It became the Citizens National Bank which was chartered prior to 1903. The Farmers and Merchants State Bank was chartered in 1906. The Ferris National Bank was chartered August 12, 1902 and liquidated in 1929 or 1930.
In 1892 there were 20 or more mercantile and other establishments besides cotton gins and a hotel.
February 25, 1899, S A. Malloy put in the first local telephone system, operating out of his drugstore. The Ferris Telephone Exchange was bought by W. B. Stovall circa 1902 from Charlie Farrar. He died in 1938 and Mrs. Stovall sold the exchange in 1942 to the Three States Telephone Company.
In 1950 Ferris was know as the “Brick Capital” of the Nation. It started with the finding of mineral clay and in 1895, J. T. Hurst formed the Atlas Brick Company. The second plant was Ferris Press Brick Company incorporated April, 1901. The third plant was Globe Press Brick Company organized in 1905. The Lone Star Press Brick Company was in operation prior to 1915. In 1919, W. J. Green established the Green Press Brick Company. The Diamond Press Brick Company, Cole Press Brick Company, and the Kooken Press Brick Company were also formed. Before 1920 rolled around, Ferris was producing 350,000 bricks each day with a capacity to produce 500,000. Bricks were shipped via both rail and wagon. In 1923, six brick companies merged into the Ferris Brick Company. They were Ferris, Globe, Lone Star, Diamond, Cole and Kooken Press Brick Company. Ferris Brick Company, run by Mr. Troy Wilson, was also famous for its show mules. The motto was “We Work Show Mules and We Show Work Mules.” These Ferris Brick Company mules won livestock shows all over the nation. The two mules, Bird and Lottie, became quite a famous pair.
In 1901, J. H. Orr and his brother W. T. Orr, formed Orr Brother Hardware Co. In 1904 it consolidated with G. H. Marshall to become Marshall-Orr Hardware Co. A funeral service was also established. In 1905, Marshall sold to Orr Brothers and it became the Orr Hardware Company.
The Texas Power and Light Company was formed in 1912 in Ellis County. Ferris was one of the first 20 towns in Texas to have transmission line service in July, 1913. The line was from Waco, Hillsboro, Waxahachie and Ferris to Dallas.
The Texas Electric Railway Company operated the interurban from Dallas to Corsicana through Ferris from about 1914 to July 1941.
Cotton was becoming a major crop by 1880 when the first cotton gin was brought to Ferris. In 1913, the National Ginner’s Report stated that Ellis County was the banner cotton county of the world and was expected to break all previous records in 1914.
The Marilyn Belts and Bags Co. was established in January 1945, enlarged in 1950, 1962, 1972 and 1974. It employed about 150 people and at one time was the largest ladies handbag manufacturer in the South.
The Ferris Oil Company was active in 1906, exploring the 185-acre Powell Field, 7 miles east of Corsicana. They hit oil at 1,000 feet – for 3 weeks! The stockholders were: T. J. Weatherford, A. E. Cox, W. E. Weatherford, A. A. Malloy, C. D. Kooken, T. W. Holloway, Frank Ezzell, J. A. Smith, Lee Lancaster and Will Speer.
On August 24, 1906, a prohibition club of 65 members was formed with Mayor W. M. Tidwell elected as Chairman and J. H. Orr as Secretary. A prohibition election was held September 14, 1906 and 215 voted for the abolishment of that evil demon, liquor, while 35 cast their vote in favor of the Saturday night booze-in. However, this did not last forever, as in 1916 we find there were 5 saloons in Ferris. During the time when the county was “dry,” there were “blind tigers” where liquor could be found.
Some of the other businesses include T. W. Holloway’s Real Estate; Bowlin’s Blacksmith Shop; the Pratt, McCord & Pratt Dry Good Store; Hughes & Kinsala’s Grocery Store; I. Jolesch Dry Goods, Clothing and Furnishing Store; Ferris Mercantile Company; Ferris Grocery Company; Malloy Drug Store; Mitchell, Kooken and Hiatt Meat Business; McCarson Construction Company and many others.
Drs. Hursey, Washington and Albert Welch were the first physicians in Ferris. They were to be followed by Dr. E. W. Dunn, Dr. A. T. Hampton, Dr. R. A. Kooken, Dr. Ernest House (famous for the truth serum), Dr. J. W. Wilson and many others.
Polk’s Dental Registry of 1893 showed Dr. H. A. Buchanan in Ferris. Dr. Willie B. Henderson was listed in 1908. Dr. R. L. Lowrance was a dentist here in 1915. Dr. A. J. Taylor opened his dental office in Ferris in August of 1916 and was still in practice as of 1974.
L. D. Johnston was a lawyer in 1915; and S. A. Wilkinson was practicing law in Ferris in 1920.
Miss Virginia Duff, of Ferris, was elected State Representative in 1950 and served this constituency for 10 years.
Prior to 1892, the Ferris School was located on the northwest corner of 5th and Church Streets. Mary Catherine Sanders wrote a letter dated April 22, 1891 stating, “The school building fund is progressing nicely.” And so it was that in 1892, the Ferris Institute was opened with one building. Professor A. C. Speer came here from Tennessee at the urging of his friend, H. A. Spencer, who was the first Principal of the Ferris Institute in 1892 as attested by a monthly report card dated March 1892. Under the guidance of Prof. Speer, the Ferris Institute became a two-year college. The first class of 3 students graduated in 1895 They were Sam Smith, Mr. J. B. Davidson and Sarah Etta Duff (who married Prof. John A. Kooken). A school picture of 1892 shows 47 students; 10 graduated in 1896; 6 in 1897. In the 1898-99 catalogue there were listed 3 buildings: a study laboratory for the lower grades, a high school, and an institute building with classrooms, laboratories and library, with 1 dormitory. By 1904, two more buildings had been added – a new dormitory and a music conservatory. There were 15 in the class of 1900 and increasing until there were 30 to 40 in the graduating class. The Ferris Institute was closed in 1907. Prof. Speer then opened a School for Boys in Ferris and after 2 years moved it to Lancaster. The Ferris Institute became the Ferris Public School. However, it wasn’t a free school but a “public tuition school” – the funds coming part from the state and part from the parents of the students. At the Ferris Institute, board, tuition and all fees were available for $15.00 a month with $4.00 extra for music, and from $2.00 to $6.00 additional for elocution.
A new brick school building was constructed in 1912 with a Mother’s Club in 1913, Mrs. W. E. Hampton serving as the first official PTA President. This building was replaced in 1940 with a building constructed by the WPA. This building still serves the Ferris ISD as the Junior High School. It wasn’t until September of 1971 that the new Elementary School was opened.
In the fall of 1919, Mr. and Mrs. M. W. Evans came to Ferris as Principal and teacher for the colored school. Classes were held in an old two-story hall on Front Street, for about 2 ½ years then moved to a large, long, one-story building that had been built as a recreation and movie house. It was divided into two classrooms for the two teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Evans. A violent storm destroyed this building and the third move was to a two-room building facing the Lancaster Road. A third room and a third teacher were added in 1923. The Negro Civic League raised $65.00 to be used as partial payment on this school. The first graduating class from the Ferris Colored High School was in 1925. In 1934, Lucy Mae McDonald came to the school that now had 120 pupils. At her request the school was named Dunbar School in 1935. Under court order in 1970, the Dunbar School was consolidated with the Ferris School and half-day sessions were in order until the new Elementary School was opened in 1971.
Many of the early residents served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. During World War I, Company L of the 144th Infantry , 34th Division of Texas, was formed in Ferris by Captain Tysen. Many of our young men served ; some did not return, and some returned who were disabled. The American Legion Post was named after Aubrey Jones and John Carpenter who did not return.
Over 2,500 men from Ellis County wee in the uniform of the United States of America during World War II. With the German surrender on May 7, 1945 and the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, the fighting was over. Those who didn’t come home included Maurice Hamilton, Ben Wilson, Roby Flippen, Warren Miller, and Randolph Baxter.
Since then, many from Ferris have served in the Armed Forces.
The early history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church has been mentioned previously. In 1906 the church went into union with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and in 1910 merged with the Southern Presbyterian Church of this city.
On the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church, on April 27, 1958, Mrs. Earle Holloway was the only living child of a charter member. At that time those having over 50 years continuous membership included: N. A. Green, Mrs. W. D. Duff, Mrs. L. E. Holloway, Mrs. Mary Graves, Mrs. Lizzie Wilson, Mrs. S. A. Malloy, Mrs. N. A. Green, J. H. Orr, Mrs. C. E. Kooken, Mrs. Stella Wilcher and Mrs. Estelle Stovall, as well as W. T. Orr, Mrs. C. R. Brown and Mrs. Mabel Johnson.
Tradition has it that the Church of Chirst was in existence at the time the town was platted in 1874, being at the corner of 5th and Baker Streets. The first elders were Sweat, Barton and Lafayette Orr. In 1902 they moved to 7th and Baker to a building purchased from the Southern Presbyterian Church. In 1919 they moved to 8th and Baker streets and a new building was erected in 1924. Some early influential members included John H. Smith, R. H. McKay and D. H. Moyers, Sr.
The Ferris Missionary Baptist Church was organized March 27, 1875 with 32 charter members. In 1879 together with the Campbellite Church and the Masons, they built at 5th and Baker Streets, the Masons using the upstairs. In 1881 Brother N. V. Lovett organized the first Sunday School. In 1902 they moved into a new building and changed the name to the First Baptist Church. In 1924 we find them with another new building. This church building burned May 6, 1964 and then the present structure was erected.
The First Southern Baptist Church met on Wood Street near 2nd Street until the building was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday 1920. They disbanded and united with the First Baptist Church until September 1939, when they withdrew and 57 members organized the Ferris Baptist Church the name later changed to First Southern Baptist Church of Ferris. Rev. D. P. McFarland, Jr. was the first pastor of the re-organized church and they purchased the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church building on the corner of Church and 3rd Street where they stayed until July 1956 when they moved to the new facilities at 805 East 8th Street.
Due to the efforts of early circuit riders, open-air revivals and brush arbor meetings were held in this vicinity and the Methodist Church was established in 1874. Rev. John Davis and Rev. George Owens served Ferris, Bluff Springs, Palmer, Carroll and Bristol from 1874 until the late 1890’s. They met in brush arbors and in the homes of the members. In 1899 Brother M. E. Hawkins reported 2 revivals with 75 to 80 conversions. In 1907 their average attendance was 75, with 100 members on the rolls. During the building of the church in 1923, they used the Presbyterian Church and the High School for their services. The present lovely building was built in 1964. About 1971 the name was changed to the United Methodist Church.
Clubs and Other Organizations
Many fraternal organizations have been active in this area, including the Masons, the Knights of Pythias, the Oddfellows, Woodmen of the World, the Rebeccas, and the Order of the Eastern Star. About 1910 there was even a Chautaugua Opera House – upstairs and across the street from the present Fire Station.
The Bay View Club, the 20th Century Club, the Garden Club, the Women’s Club, the Ferris Shrine Club, the Cemetery Society, American Legion Auxiliary, the Home Demonstration Club, the Farm Bureau, the Lions Club and many more have been active.
The Ferris Commercial Club was organized January 14, 1916 with over 100 members. It later became the Chamber of Commerce.
One of the most important organizations has been the Volunteer Fire Department which was organized February 12, 1902 with 35 members. Frank Cassidy was a member from 1916 until 1966 when he retired. J. W. “Skinny” McKnight and Bonner Rice each served with the Volunteer Fire Department for 40 years. Many others have given long and faithful service.
Some Other Early Settlers
The Batchlers had land west of town by 1857. W. W. Batchler built the first brick building in Ferris. In addition to many business interests including dry goods, groceries, implements, etc. they had a race horse “Run-after-em” which was never beaten in a race. He was just a common cow pony and work horse, but after be became famous as a winner on the race track, he was sold to someone from New York and kept winning every race he entered.
Thomas G. Cole was born January 23, 1847 in Alabama and came to Ferris in 1876. He was active in many enterprises until his death in 1920.
D. H. Moyers, Sr. was born August 30, 1876 at India. He was active in banking and many other businesses until his death in 1961.
John V. Mutz was born March 17, 1852 at Williamsburg, Long Island; educated at Duff College, Pittsburg, PA; and came to Texas in 1876 and to Ferris in 1880. He married Miss Jessie Kooken June 28, 1887 and they had a son who died in 1899 and two daughters, Helen and Sunie. Helen married William Batchler. Sunie was married to Harvey Myers in 1922. They had son, Johnny Myers.
George Elliott Cassidy was born October 24, 1848 in Pennsylvania and came to Texas in 1878 and to Ferris in 1880. George Cassidy married Miss Vinie Hiatt on June 2, 1889 and their children were Frank and George. He died in 1906 leaving his wife and 2 small sons, aged 11 and 4.
Robert Troy Wilson was born December 10, 1894 in Ferris, the oldest son of J. H. Wilson and Lizzie Sanders. His grandparents were members of the Duff-Green-McDaniel Colony that came from Mississippi in 1870. He attended Trinity University at Waxahachie, was a veteran of World War I and for many years Manager of the Ferris Brick Company.
Tom McKnight Weatherford was born June 26, 1896, the son of Eleanor Maud McKnight and Mack Weatherford. Eleanor Maud McKnight was born November 8, 1874, the daughter of John Thaddeus McKnight and Mary Jane (Molly) McDaniel. John T. McKnight was one year old when the McKnight-Andrews caravan arrived on their “league and a labor” in Dallas and Ellis Counties on December 23, 1851. Molly McDaniel was born November 7, 1849 in Mississippi, the daughter of James Alonzo McDaniel and Serena N. Grubbs. She was with the Duff-Green-McDaniel Caravan of 1870. John T. McKnight and Molly McDaniel were married January 6, 1874. Thus, Tom Weatherford was a direct descendent of the Tennessee settlers of 1851 and also the pioneers from Mississippi in 1870. He was a farmer all his life on the ground of his forefathers.
Thomas J. Weatherford was born December 29, 1841 in Illinois, moved from Wilmer to Ferris in 1881. He organized the second brick plant in 1901 (Ferris Press Brick Company) and he founded the Globe Press Brick Company in 1905. He was also in various mercantile enterprises including dry goods, wagons, buggies and implements.
From about 1940 to 1955, the cultivation of onions was a big thing in Ferris and onion sheds were built along the railroad property for sorting and shipping.
It is believed that the night of February 18, 1899 was the coldest on record, the temperature having dropped to 10 degrees below zero. Much damage was done.
The fall of 1876 brought a serious grasshopper plague when every ygreen plant was devoured by the locust within a few days.
In 1901, Dr. Aldredge owned the first car in Ferris, it being a two cylinder Maxwell. Dr. House followed shortly, driving a two cylinder Jackson.
“Town Trades Days” were popular back in 1915, with the picture show giving a continuous performance all day long. The day Mrs. C. E. Pratt won an automobile given away by the Ferris merchants; the crowd in town was estimated to be between 5 and 6 thousand people.
The little “Town that Bricked the World” celebrated its 100th Birthday on September 5th, 6th and 7th, 1974.