FAIRFIELD – FREESTONE COUNTY HISTORYEarly residents of this county came from southern states as early as 1835. The rich farmland, clear springs, vast amounts of timber, and the proximity to the Trinity River for transportation attracted settlers from the eastern and southern states. The central area destined to become the County Seat was called Mound Prairie.
Originally being included in Robertson and then in Limestone County, on August 27, 1850 a bill was read before the Texas Legislature calling for the creation of Freestone County. On September 6th, 1850 the bill was approved, but it became apparent that some alterations were necessary. On November 23, 1850 a subsequent amendatory act was introduced to the Senate. The amendatory act was approved on November 30, 1850 and Freestone County was born.
Fairfield was founded in 1851 when David H. Love deeded to the county one hundred acres of land from the R. Gainer league of land closely centered in the County. This parcel of land was designated by Freestone County officials as the permanent location of the county seat and was renamed, Fairfield, in honor of many of the citizen’s previous home of Fairfield, Alabama. A temporary courthouse was erected that was later described as “no better than a shanty”. It was replaced in 1855 with a brick structure at a cost of close to $9,000 and later in 1891 with a three-story brick and stone courthouse for $23,120. Our present courthouse was built in 1919 at a cost of $200,000 and remains the center structure of the Town Square in Fairfield.
There was a large influx of settlers to this area before and after the Civil War. Fairfield was the center of agricultural commerce for the county residents. Cotton was grown well into the twentieth century. Food crops were also prevalent.
Freestone County furnished 1000 men to the Civil War with only 300 coming back. The returned soldiers began county reorganization again, but no sooner were the officers elected than they were removed. Governor Edmund J. Davis imposed martial law in the county on October 9, 1871 because of reports of "coercion and fraudulent voting" during the elections of October 3 through 6 in Fairfield. New Elections were ordered and carried out in the presence of bayonets, with voters in single file marching to the polls, white voters alternating with colored ones in the long line. There were only two elections of this kind, and each one took four days. Martial law was lifted a month later.
Civil War veterans held annual reunions from 1890 until 1931 and a last time in 1933. The three-day reunions were eventually held on land donated by W. L. Moody and brother, Leroy, in Fairfield. Civil War cannons that had been buried after the war were dug up and shot in celebration. One of the cannons now stands on the Courthouse lawn in memory of the lives given in honor of Freestone County. The old reunion campground is now the site of the Freestone County Fair and Rodeo that is held annually. Families use the updated campsites to visit with old friends and make new ones each year.
During the year of 1880, with a population of about 450, Fairfield had two steam gristmills, two cotton gins, 3 hotels, and several doctors and lawyers. Several churches were in use and businesses were on all sides of the square, including a newspaper that is still in operation. A hack line traveled from Fairfield to Mexia to the railroad for supplies. Several beautiful homes from early Fairfield still exist: Moody/Bradley Home, The Dentage, The Manahan Home, and The Fischer House. These are all privately owned except the Moody Bradley House, which is maintained by The Fairfield History Club.
Education being very important to early citizens of the county, Fairfield Female College was established at a location south east of town with Henry Graves (President of Baylor University 1846-1851) as president. It opened in 1859 with more than 100 students present. Girls were educated in the finest fashion studying Ancient Languages, Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, Mathematics, English Literature, Embroidery, Chenille and Fancywork, Piano Music, Drawing, Painting in Watercolors, and Grecian and Oil Painting.
Board and washing cost student’s families $12.00 per month. After the Civil War, the academy was reopened as a coeducational college with Dr. W. B. Moore in charge. The academy functioned until 1889 and was razed in 1900.
A male academy was also erected at an unknown site. It was accredited at about the same time as the female college.
The 1890s and the early 1900’s brought a meningitis outbreak and a tornado which heavily damaged the central area of town. The year 1903 brought the boll weevil scourge that destroyed the cotton crops and in 1911 part of the historic business district was ravaged by fire. One thing time did not bring was the railroad. It bypassed Fairfield by 10 miles bringing development to other sections of the county from 1891 through 1907. Fairfield survived because it remained the Freestone County Seat despite the unsuccessful efforts of surrounding railroad towns of Wortham and Teague to move it in 1891 and 1910 consecutively.
Early Fairfield had several saloons in business around the square. In the early 1900’s Fairfield residents voted the town dry. With the arrival of prohibition, however, several enterprising families went into “moonshine” production and bootlegging. Freestone County gained national notoriety for its production of the best “moonshine” in the country and has the dubious honor of being mentioned for this fact in U. S. history books. Between 1924 and 1926 all out effort was made by the Texas Rangers to “roundup” the whiskey stills in the area. Although they had some success, the repeal of prohibition was a more important factor in eradicating this industry. Although whiskey making was “against the law”, the depression era was a time when families were trying desperately to survive. Criminals they were not, just resourceful people who found a way to provide for their families.
Farming and ranching remain an important part of Fairfield commerce. However, peach production and cattle ranching have replace “King Cotton”.
In addition, natural resources and natural gas and coal have been of particular importance since the 1960’s. In 1969 Texas Utilities Generating Company located a steam electric station near Fairfield to use the lignite resources in the area. This was a boom to the local economy. The generating plant required the construction of a large man-made lake. Fairfield State Lake has become known as one of the best fishing lakes in the state. Good camping facilities and recreation at this park bring approximately 250,000 people to the area each year.
Today Fairfield’s population is approximately 3,349. However there are several housing additions outside the city limits that increase this number to around 16, 712. Fairfield is in an ideal location and has ideal resources to make tourism the largest industry in the area. We retain the charm of small town American and can visualize a future for the city that can enchant our visitors as well. We look forward to this future and believe Fairfield can be economically viable without losing the ambiance and appeal that have made Fairfield a place people want to call home.
Other interesting facts about Fairfield:
There is archeological evidence that the county was inhabited from the late Holocene era to the arrival of Spanish settlers.
There is evidence that Caddoan Indians occupied the area during the same historic period.
During the 1830’s the Kichais Indians had a settlement near what is now Butler and the Tawakonis Indians lived around Tehuacana Creek.
Both Spanish and French settlers were in the area, but the French seemed to influence the Indian people the most. This limited the Spanish presence in the area.
David G. Burnett was one of the first people to secure a land grant in this area from the Mexican government and this eventually became Freestone County.
A noted citizen of Fairfield, W. L. Moody was the founder of the Moody Foundation. His son, W. L. Moody, Jr. was born in Fairfield’s historic Moody/Bradley House.
In 1970 two factors changed the face of Fairfield, the building of Interstate Highway 45 parallel with Texas 75 and the opening of the Big Brown Steam Electric station, a lignite-fired coal plant, and Big Brown Mine, now known as TXU Electric Generating and TXU Mining Company. The power plant and mine combined became the largest employer in the area.
Since the early 1980’s the construction of the Boyd Unit of TDC between Fairfield and Teague4 has helped the economy in both town. In 1999 Bailiff Enterprises, Inc. from Houston became the first industry to build in the Industrial Park in Fairfield. At the present time a second power plant owned by Calpine Corporation in California is under construction in the Fairfield area.
In Recent years gas production has boomed with rigs being erected only feet apart in some areas. Gravel roads and pads replace grassland to the extent that cattle production has suffered.
The people of Fairfield still have the same optimism as that of the early pioneers and their efforts continue to bear fruit.