History of Winnsboro
Located in the Northeast tip of Wood County, surrounded by towering trees, lush pastures and beautiful lakes, Winnsboro is a three-county city where Wood, Franklin, and Hopkins counties meet. For centuries, the Winnsboro we know today and the surrounding area were occupied by the peace-loving, agricultural Caddo Indians.
In 1854, while traveling west from Rusk County, Englishman John E. Winn and his stepson WR McMillan, were so impressed with the rich land and beauty of the piney woods area that they ended their journey and bought 361 acres. They named the area Crossroads, after the intersection of what are now our North Main and Pine Streets. Winn and McMillan began building homes and opened the town’s first mercantile, the Cheap Cash Store. Other businesses and homes soon followed. In 1855 Crossroads applied for a post office but found that another community in Texas was also named Crossroads. In honor of Winn, the name was changed to Winnsborough, and in the early 1890s the name was shortened to the current spelling of Winnsboro.
By 1861, in addition to the post office, Winnsboro had four general stores, a blacksmith, a masonic lodge, a woodworking shop, and a livery stable. During this time, Winnsboro’s economy was largely agricultural, based mainly on timber and crops such as corn, cotton, peaches, and strawberries. However, the only markets available were in Jefferson and Shreveport and the only method of transport was freight wagons pulled by oxen, horses, or mules.
In 1876, Nancy Cook, an early Winnsboro landowner, convinced the railroad to come to Winnsboro by donating one-half interest in 100 acres of land with a 200 foot right-of-way for the railroad. For her donation, she received the right to choose the location of the depot. The first depot was built in 1878 at what is now the intersection of Main Street and Broadway. It was destroyed by fire in 1907, and in 1908 the present building was rebuilt at the same location. In the 1950ss, rail service began to lose its stronghold to airplanes, buses, and the trucking industry and in the 1960s, Winnsboro’s depot, for decades a center of activity, closed it’s doors. Over the next two decades, the depot showed signs of vandalism and neglect and was considered for demolition by the railroad.
Saved by the Winnsboro Heritage Society in 1985, the depot has been fully restored and now proudly call it our Winnsboro Depot Center. The Center houses our Winnsboro Area Chamber of Commerce office and meeting room, the Autumn Trails office, WEDC office, as well as a community room available for meetings and special events.
With the coming of the railroad, merchants from the ‘Old Town’ or the hill at North Main and Pine Streets began scrambling for a location near the bustling depot. The population of 300 began to increase rapidly. By 1885 Winnsboro had schools, several churches, 8 steam gristmills and cotton gins, an opera house, a weekly newspaper and a population of 700.
Home to thousands of acres of long leaf yellow pine trees and hardwood timber, Winnsboro attracted many sawmills and loggers. With the expansion of the railroad and the relative ease of shipping and receiving by rail in a day or a matter of hours, instead of days or weeks by wagon, the timber industry was booming.
During this time of economic growth, Winnsboro had its share of colorful events too. At the peak of the timber cutting business, 30 sawmills with spirited loggers looking for entertainment populated the area. The alley street north of the depot became known as ‘The Bowery’, complete with saloons, gambling halls, and bath houses that catered to the loggers. Not surprisingly with that type of atmosphere, Winnsboro also had its share of gun play.
In 1902 the Texas Southern Line extended its train service to Winnsboro from Marshall. Winnsboro was becoming a major shipping center for lumber, cotton, and other agricultural products. By 1914 the flourishing community had four banks, two potteries, a public library, a cottonseed oil mill, two cotton gins, two weekly newspapers and a population of 2300.
In the early part of the 20th century three passenger trains arrived in Winnsboro at noon each day. Winnsboro had an excellent reputation for fine food at the hotels, boarding houses and other eating establishments located near the depot. This area was a hub for activity and commerce, and telegraph messages were received and transmitted 24 hours a day.
By 1910 the pine forests were depleted and with the decline of the timber business, row crop farming became the most important industry for Winnsboro. ‘The Bowery’ became Market Street as saloons and gambling halls were replaced by grocery stores and feed stores. During this new era, the Farmers Market thrived. Farmers sold their produce, picked fresh from local farms, to restaurants and housewives and shipped it to larger cities by rail. By around 1912 the Farmers Market relocated to Smokey Row, named for the heavy smoke from the blacksmiths’ coal fires on what is now Franklin street.
The onset of the Great Depression and plummeting cotton prices in the early 1930s combined to bring hard times for Winnsboro. Boy 1936 the population had dropped to 1900 and many businesses were forced to shut their doors.
Winnsboro’s rich history also includes tales of visits from Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker from 1932 10 1934. When hiding out with an accomplice who lived near Winnsboro, Bonnie and Clyde occasionally visited downtown Winnsboro to eat, shop, and (rumor has it) to pick up a supply of ammunition in front of the depot. Winnsboro was one of the last places the notorious duo were known to stop before their gruesome demise in Louisiana in May 1934.
In 1940 oil was discovered in nearby Hawkins and in 1943 oil was discovered one mile south of Winnsboro. Soon oil fields were all around the area, and Winnsboro became a ‘Texas Oil Boomtown’. The populations rose to over 3000 and the oil boom lasted for 10-12 years. The oil industry supported the local economy for over 40 years into the 1980s.
Over the next few decades Winnsboro became a quiet, friendly community that continued its agricultural roots and expanded into the cattle, poultry, and dairy industries. In 2003 Winnsboro became a Main Street City, and historic downtown buildings have been beautifully renovated and restored. In 2005 Winnsboro received the honor of becoming a Preserve America Community, a White House initiative recognizing cities that show an understanding of historic preservation as well as its relationship to community and economic development., Today with a population near 4000, Winnsboro is once again a bustling center of activity attracting new businesses, expanding current businesses, and experiencing new industrial business growth.
Winnsboro is for people of all ages and has something for everyone. Recently designated as a Certified Retirement Community, we have the peaceful atmosphere and amenities desired by retirees, along with an excellent educational system and opportunities for families with children. Known as Home of the Autumn Trails since 1959, we celebrate the breathtaking beauty of the fall foliage every October with a full month of events including pageants, arts and crafts, parades, antique cars and tractors, and of course, a trail ride through the scenic countryside.
We invite you to stroll though our town and discover our heritage as you read the numerous historical markers depicting early Winnsboro. Along the way, enjoy the small-town pace as you visit with friendly merchants in our specialty stores and antique shops, and enjoy a leisurely meal at any of our many wonderful restaurants. Attend an art exhibit or an evening concert, relax with a spa treatment, enjoy fishing, boating or camping at one of the area lakes, and retreat to fine accommodations of the evening.
After spending even a short stay, Winnsboro’s quiet pace and friendly people, makes visitors want to come back again and again. But don’t let the slow pace fool you, because when Winnsboro gears for a festival or event, it does it up good! The Greater Northeast Texas Gun Show is held twice each year in September and March. Autumn Trails kicks off the month of October along with and Classic Car Cruise-In. November brings the Art Market with artists coming from all over the United States and then Christmas in Winnsboro is a great time to shop, eat and simply enjoy all that our town has to offer.
Winnsboro, Texas is becoming the ideal place to spend a short time or a lifetime. Whether you choose shopping for that unique item from the many antique shops to spending the evening listening to music in the Bowery or just strolling the beautiful cultural arts district, you will surely choose ‘Our town first’. We hope to see you soon!