SABINE FARMS, TEXAS.

Jared Cravens
Clearing Land, Sabine Farms.
Clearing land, Sabine Farms. The U. S. government purchased more than 10,000 acres of East Texas woods, approximately twelve miles south of Marshall, for the site of the rural community of Sabine Farms. Photograph by Russell Lee, 1939. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF34-033126-D].

SABINE FARMS, TEXAS. Sabine Farms is a rural community located about twelve miles south of Marshall and on the border of Harrison and Panola counties, in the vicinity of Farm Road 1186. The community was built from 1936 to 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration) to help struggling, low-income African-American rural farmers and their families by resettlement into a more productive model farming community. The Resettlement Administration established approximately 100 or more communities nationwide; Sabine Farms was one of only a dozen or so African American communities. While many African-American resettlement projects faced local opposition, the construction of Sabine Farms garnered broad support from many regional and state officials, including Governor James V. Allred, Congressman Wright Patman, Wiley College President Matthew W. Dogan, and Senator Morris Sheppard.

Typical Farmstead, Sabine Farms.
Photographer Russell Lee captured this scene of a typical farmstead at Sabine Farms in 1939. The community was built in the late 1930s by the New Deal Resettlement Administration to assist low-income African-American rural farmers and their families. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF34-033095-D].

The local land and plantation owners sold more than 10,000 acres to the federal government for the community site and farms, and seventy-five to eighty homes were built, with half in Harrison County and half in Panola County. Each plot consisted of a generic model home, a barn, a hog house, a poultry house, a well, and a privy. More than 400 people were selected to settle at Sabine Farms—most were sharecroppers from Harrison and Panola counties. At the time, African Americans constituted more than a majority of the population in both counties. Each family signed a five-year lease, after which time they could buy and receive a title for the property. Each farm averaged about 150 acres in size. The families cultivated their land and received funds to purchase twenty-five chickens, three cows, one hog, and a team of mules. The community shared a bull.

Farmhouse at Sabine Farms.
A family relaxes on the porch of their new home at Sabine Farms, Texas. Photograph by Russell Lee, 1939. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF34-033094-D].

By 1940 a 19.3-acre community center complex was built by young men of all-African American camps of the National Youth Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The community complex (built in Harrison County along what is now Farm Road 1186) consisted of approximately fifteen buildings, which supported the following: a house for the project supervisor, an office building, a 400-seat community center/auditorium, a beauty shop, a men’s workshop, a medical clinic and infirmary, a cooperative grocery store and cannery, a boy’s dormitory, a dining and recreation hall, a slaughterhouse and smokehouse, a water tower and wellhouse, a baseball diamond, a feed and gristmill, a trading post, hay and fertilizer storage, community church services, and a school. The complex was dedicated on Juneteenth 1941. An annual community fair was held as well as community education workshops, community plays, baseball games, music festivals, and school and church programs.

From 1943 to 1945, due to the ending leases and the Farm Security Administration’s liquidation of all national resettlement holdings, all land was sold, and the federal government ended its involvement. By the end of 1944, sixty-nine farms had been sold to their respective families, and they received the titles to their land. Residents established the Sabine Farms Educational Society and partnered with nearby Bishop College to buy the community center area. Bishop College provided adult business, home making, and agriculture educational programs there. Sabine Farms became the site of Bishop College’s football practice. The students, including veterans returning from World War II, learned blacksmithing, automotive mechanics, and scientific farming methods. The community remained viable with healthcare, agricultural education, organized recreation, and community celebrations. In the 1950s Sabine Farms was a major site of cucumber production in East Texas, and the Best Made Pickle Company of Fort Worth regularly came to buy cucumbers.

Sabine Farms Home. Photograph by Jared Cravens, 2016.
By the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, many of the buildings at Sabine Farms had deteriorated. Photograph by Jared Cravens, 2016.

In 1961 Bishop College relocated to Dallas and left the Sabine Farms community, and Paul Quinn College then became part owner. Residents remained, but the population began to dwindle. Farming slowed down and inhabitants dispersed. By the 1980s most of the buildings in the community center complex had been burned or torn down, and the remaining structures were deteriorated and vandalized; Juneteenth celebrations had ceased. A television movie, The Man Who Broke a Thousand Chains, was filmed at Sabine Farms in 1987.

Sabine Farms Community Center. Photograph by Jared Cravens, 2016.
Sabine Farms Community Center. Photograph by Jared Cravens, 2016.

In 2004 Sabine Farms was designated as a Historical Endangered Site by the organization Preservation Texas. Around 2009 the Sabine Farms Educational Society resumed annual Juneteenth celebrations at the Sabine Farms community complex, and a Texas Historical Marker was erected near the old community center in 2010. By 2016 some of the original houses were still standing and were occupied, while others were in disrepair. A few buildings in the community complex were standing in a repaired state and being maintained. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Bob Brinkman, “A Place of Comfort, a Time of Hope,” The Medallion, January/February 2009. Bob Brinkman, “Sabine Farms: A New Start For Families,” Texas Heritage 4 (2015). Marshall News Messenger, June 18, 2010; June 16, 2015. Helen Murray, Telephone Interview by Jared Cravens. “New Deal Programs: Volunteers Pitch in to Save a Slice of History,” Texas C-Bar Bulletin, Spring 2007. Sabine Farms (http://afrotexan.com/harrison/Sabine/sabine.htm), accessed May 18, 2016.

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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, Jared Cravens, "SABINE FARMS, TEXAS. ," accessed September 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrsfa.

Uploaded on June 9, 2016. Modified on June 10, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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