BEN WHEELER, TX
BEN WHEELER, TEXAS. Ben Wheeler is on State Highway 64 and Farm roads 279 and 858 twelve miles southeast of Canton in southeast central Van Zandt County. The community is surrounded by springs in rich farming country that was originally part of Henderson County. The site was settled in the 1840s. Kentucky native Benjamin F. Wheeler, who arrived from New Orleans around 1847 and obtained a grant of 640 acres at Creagleville, near Grand Saline, carried the mail to the community in the early years. The community was called Clough, for prominent settler George Washington Clough. In 1876 a post office was established at his home, with Clough as the first postmaster. The community was named for Ben Wheeler in 1878. Wheeler carried the mail from Tyler to Buffalo, staying the night with his friend Clough. In the early 1880s George Clough built a general store, a schoolhouse, and a church one mile east of the present townsite and applied to move the post office and change the name to Georgetown. While the post office was moved, there was already another Georgetown in Texas, so the community's name remained Ben Wheeler. In 1888 Ben Wheeler had three churches, a district school, saw and grist mills, two syrup mills, cotton gins, and a general store.
The Alamo Institute, a local coeducational boarding school established by J. F. Davidson in 1891, had an enrollment of 142 in 1903. Before 1893, when a fire destroyed most of its structures, Ben Wheeler had seven stores, three gin-and-mill combinations, boarding houses, two churches, and the Berry Resort Hotel. In 1896 the population was 500, but a smallpox epidemic reduced the residents to 238 by 1904, when school enrollment was 163. A grocery store was established at Ben Wheeler in 1905, and in 1919 the town had a bank, a school, two churches, two cotton gins, a corn mill, the weekly Headlight, and an annual fair. With the growth of the nearby Van oilfield, hotels and dance halls opened. The population reached 375 in 1933. During the 1930s the cotton market fell, and many local farmers turned to truck farming. Businesses expanded to eighteen by 1943, dwindled to nine by 1972, and rose to twenty-two by 1988. Many farmers turned to cattle raising in the 1960s. The school was consolidated with the Van Independent School District in 1966. In 2000 the community reported a population of 400 and eighty-seven businesses. The Prairie Springs and Asbury cemeteries are located nearby.
Wentworth Manning, Some History of Van Zandt County (Des Moines, Iowa: Homestead, 1919; rpt., Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter, 1977). William Samuel Mills, History of Van Zandt County (Canton, Texas, 1950). Van Zandt County History Book Committee, History of Van Zandt County (Dallas, 1984). Victoria Advocate, July 14, 1984.