Cincinnati, Texas

Situated along the west side of the Trinity River in northern Walker County, Cincinnati was an important river port and ferry crossing during the nineteenth century. The settlement was founded by James C. Dewitt, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, and was part of a land grant of 1,280 acres that DeWitt was given by the Mexican government on December 1, 1835. It was divided into thirty-nine blocks with twelve lots per block. The streets ran parallel and perpendicular to the river and space was even reserved for a public square in the hopes that the town would one day become the county seat (unfortunately for Cincinnati, Walker County was created in 1846 and Huntsville was made the county seat). DeWitt sold the first lot on May 11 of 1837 to a Johnathan S. Collard for $30, signifying the true birth of the town. Many other lots were bought throughout 1837 and 1838 with some notable buyers being merchants and other veterans of the Battle of the San Jacinto. DeWitt died sometime before the end of 1839 and his widow later married Frederick Pomeroy, who by 1839 had established himself as a prominent member of the town, owning the largest store in town, the ferry, and a tanyard.

Tragedy would later strike Cincinnati in 1853, but in the years leading up to this, sources indicate it as a thriving community that continued to grow, albeit gradually. In Walker County’s earliest days, all major supplies for Huntsville and other nearby towns passed through the town, boosting the economy. Materials were shipped by boat to the port, brought to land, and then transported to wherever they were needed. Roads ran from Cincinnati to other parts of East Texas. The arguably most notable road connected the town directly to Huntsville, allowing for transportation by wagon, stagecoach, or foot, but the road was not in the best condition. Records indicate that various types of ships would transverse the river and stop at the port, including flatboats, steamboats, and keelboats. These ships brought in such things as medicine, whiskey, salt, flour, bolts of cloth, and other materials, as well as passengers who potentially could be settlers. When ships left the port of Cincinnati, they often left with hides and pelts, lard, cotton, and beeswax. The town became known as a central stop along the river, but some of the ships would make stops along other points of the river, most often at individually-owned plantations and farms. Being a fast mode of transportation in the absence of a railway, ships would often traverse the river and it was not uncommon for the boats to get stuck on river debris due to the unpredictable rise and fall of the water levels.

Some records indicate that the town was bustling, at one time larger than Huntsville. It had a well-known hotel, Hunter’s Tavern, which was owned by George E. Hunter, a veteran of the War of 1812. It also had a post office, tanyard, woodyard, school, church, ferry, a Masonic Lodge with seventy members, several saloons, a bowling alley, and several shops, including a blacksmith’s, a shoemaker’s, a tailor’s and a saddle shop, indicating the existence of a self-sustaining economy within the town. The area surrounding the town was rich with slave plantations that prospered in the harvest and trade of cotton. Cincinnati also had several doctors who kept the town’s people healthy to the best of their ability, such as James H. Smith, who also owned a store and saloon, and Samuel P. Dubois. Unfortunately, they would not be enough to prevent the hard blow from a terrible disease as it made its way up the Trinity River and into the town.

Local legend has it that a stranger from Galveston who arrived in the town in the fall of 1853 was the one who brought yellow fever with him. In reality, it was mosquitos, stowed away on a boat, that had brought the disease upriver to the inhabitants of Cincinnati. An infected man had been taken off this boat for treatment; unbeknownst to the townspeople, he’d had the “yellow jack.” Some sources estimate that the town could have had as many as 600 inhabitants at the time, and that about twenty-five percent of them died of the disease while many others fled. Local doctors tried their best to aid the sick and fulfill the demand for care, but with so little known about “yellow jack,” they were at a loss on what to prescribe as effective treatment. It is likely that here, as well as in other places that had been struck by the fever, that physicians were in disagreement about how to treat those afflicted by it. Some treatments included keeping patients still and quiet, injecting them with mercury, and prescribing mustard baths.

There are local myths that claim yellow fever was what resulted in the total abandonment of the town, but these are simply stories meant to excite the imagination. The disease did deal a harsh strike to the town, but it survived for several decades after the 1853 epidemic. Those who survived the epidemic continue to live there for many years, and other evidence suggests the town continued existing until up to the twentieth century. The Masonic Lodge was active until 1861, Dr. Smith’s store and saloon were kept running until his death in 1889, and the mail continued to be brought in and out of the town until the post office was shut down in 1892. With no correspondence coming in or going out, this newfound silence in Cincinnati seemed to signify its true end. Another important cause of Cincinnati's demise occurred in 1872, when the railway connecting Houston and Dallas was completed. The railroad crossed the Trinity River in the town of Riverside, just fifteen miles downstream of Cincinnati. A State of Texas marker was dedicated in 1936 and placed at what was believed to be the site of the main part of town, although existing evidence suggests that the marker was placed in the wrong location.

The site of Cincinnati is now owned by a local Walker County family that has ties to the historic town. Virtually nothing of the town remains except some ruins from two local cemeteries that contain graves from the town’s earliest days. Today, Cincinnati is among the list of Texas ghost towns, comprised of communities that legend claims were here one day and gone the next. Cincinnati’s demise was not so cut-and-dry, but was the result of gradual decline that lasted decades. It continues to be a significant part of Walker County’s history to this day.

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