LISSIE, TEXAS. Lissie is on the Southern Pacific Railroad and State Highway 90A in northern Wharton County. Though the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway was completed through the vicinity in 1859, it was not until 1878 that a major group of settlers moved into the area by West Bernard Creek. A station was established next to the railroad, and in 1878 a post office opened. The community grew to have a Methodist church, a hotel, and several other businesses and took the name New Philadelphia. Its settlers moved to the area as a result of a severe depression in Great Britain, beginning in 1876, that caused over two million Welsh miners to be unemployed. In 1878 the Workmen's Emigration Society was formed to send families to Texas. To entice families to emigrate, an advertisement was distributed by William G. Kingsbury, a Texas Land Emigration agent in London. For only 320 pounds, those traveling to Texas would benefit by ownership of "80–100 acres prime grass land, fenced; 4 room house, fenced and containing a 1 acre garden, half of which will be plowed and ready for trees and seeds. A yoke of gentle cattle with yoke and chains ready for work. A plough and farm tools, 4 milch cows and 4 calves, and one average Texas horse with saddle and bridle. The house contains an American cook stove with a complete set of cooking utensils and a water well, pump and cistern near the house. Delivery of 12 hens, 2 pigs and 200 fruit and ornamental trees." A credit of ten pounds a month for groceries would be theirs on demand until their first crop was harvested. The majority of the emigrants came from the Rhymney and Rhondda valleys. Though they reportedly found Texas to their liking, several circumstances doomed the venture. Credit to buy groceries was cut off when funds from the emigration society were not sent. Also, some immigrants arrived too late in the year to plant crops. In less than ten years only five or six families remained.
The area had once been open range for cattle, and this led to disputes. A fire burned most of New Philadelphia, and an old-timer in 1961 claimed it was set "to keep out the cattle thieves and squatters." The community's post office closed in 1891. In the late 1800s John Linderholm, manager of the Southern Texas Colonization Company, Chicago, and president of the Fidelity Emigration Company of Kansas City, Missouri, with offices in Houston, Eagle Lake, and Chesterville, purchased more than 60,000 acres in Wharton and Colorado counties. Residents of the northern states were the primary target for the venture's brochure, Solid Facts About Sunny Southern Texas. The text was credited to Paul Van Dervoort, past commander-in-chief, Grand Army of the Republic. It promised "40 acres a living; 80 acres comfort; 160 acres wealth." Free rail fare was given to anyone purchasing 160 acres. This project proved to be more successful, as those who came this time were farmers instead of miners. They tried planting many of the crops that they had grown in the North, but the soil and weather caused poor harvests. The brochure had claimed that oranges, peaches, strawberries, and other fruits could be grown successfully as well as oats, rye, barley, and other grains. These too proved to be unsuited for that area.
The introduction of rice culture to the Lissie prairie changed the area's future. In 1892 rice was grown on the Beaumont prairie. This successful harvest prompted Capt. William Dunovant in 1898 to plant forty acres of rice on the south end of Eagle Lake. B. L. Vineyard decided that rice opened up possibilities for the prairie areas surrounding Eagle Lake. Vineyard formed the Eagle Lake Rice Irrigation Company and built a water-pumping plant on Eagle Lake in 1899. His canal extended eastward toward Lissie. Rice probably saved land promoter Linderholm from being mobbed by his clients, most of whom were barely making a living. In 1899 he dug the first irrigation well on the eastern edge of Chesterville, three miles north of Lissie. In only a few years more than 150 shallow wells were in the area. A steam electric-generating plant was built east of Lissie in 1903 to run seven wells, which were abandoned when a system of irrigating by canals from the Colorado River was perfected. By this time the Beaumont prairie (Jefferson County) and the Lissie prairie (Wharton and Colorado counties) were the top rice-producing areas in Texas. (The 1989 statistics show Wharton County as the top rice-producing county in Texas, followed by Colorado County.)
The high price of rice and the discovery of natural gas in the Lissie area produced very good incomes for area residents for a long time. In the 1980s prices for both rice and oil declined sharply, causing some farmers to go bankrupt or to farm other crops. By 1990 the business district of Lissie no longer existed, as the neighboring communities of Eagle Lake and East Bernard had drawn away shoppers. At this time the only commercial enterprises that remained in Lissie were a greenhouse nursery, a rice dryer, and a small garage. The Lissie school district had been annexed to the East Bernard district in 1956. As the Lissie area is on the Central Flyway for geese and ducks, hunters journey there every winter, and the Lissie prairie, along with nearby Eagle Lake, is known as the "goose-hunting capital of the world." Most of the rice farmers lease their land for hunting or run hunting clubs, and refer to this extra income as a "third crop." During the early 1990s the Lissie telephones were on the Eagle Lake exchange. The Lissie post office in 1990 served about seventy-five families. Lissie had a population of 100 in 1927, and 70 in 1950. The town still had an estimated population of 70 in 1990, when it reported three businesses. The population remained the same in 2000. A cemetery was located just east on State Highway 90A in the early 1990s.
Thomas W. Cutrer, The English Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Eagle Lake, Texas). Annie Lee Williams, A History of Wharton County (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1964).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Merle R. Hudgins, "Lissie, TX," accessed February 13, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnl32.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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