The History of Smiley, Texas
Attracted by abundant water from a long natural lake, settlers began moving to the Smiley area in the 1840’s The lake was situated between Cuero and Rancho on the main San Antonio-Indianola trade route. Jim Smiley was one of the first known to use the lake’s banks as a campground. Although horses, cows and sheep were raised, horses were the first commodity. They were sold for racing and other use to buyers in the southern states.
The lake and surrounding prairie grass furnished an ideal holding area for cattle. After sufficient numbers were amassed, these animals were driven to Belmont to join herds headed north on a branch of the Chisholm Trail.
One trail rider Algernon Sidney Billings, frequently returned from Kansas owning the horses of other drivers who had gambled in Abilene. Profits from the sale of these newly acquired horses enabled Billings to invest in cheap land. Another trail rider, John Wesley Hardin, better known as a gunfighter, lived south of the lake with his ranching relatives, the Clements family. Hardin and his cousins used the lake often as a watering stop for their horses.
The first family to settle permanently on the bank of Old Smiley’s Lake was that of George Colley from Georgia. In 1879 he built a horse-powered cotton gin and saw mill. The mill converted local elms and other trees into fencing as there was no barbed wire then.
Between 1880 and 1906, the cross-roads settlement could boast a saddle factory, wire fence plant, chair factory, blacksmith shop, newspaper, drug store, general stores, school, Baptist Church, and an I.0.0.F Lodge.
A post office was established in 1884. A brass band and baseball teams provided recreation. Some twenty families lived near the lake; however, the larger population resided on farms and ranches in the surrounding area.
In 1906 the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad completed tracks one mile north of the lake. Soon all of the businesses, the church, the lodge and most of the residences moved nearer to the depot. The Methodist Church and the Masonic Lodge moved in from a location west of town. Virgil Colley, the new town’s planner, designated on city block a children's fenced playground. This block also served as a plaza for the businesses facing it on all sides. On weekends the block became a rodeo arena or a baseball diamond. By 1909 the town had expanded to include the Colley, Morey, and Glover additions. The Todd subdivision was annexed in 1966. The citizens voted to incorporate in June 1949.
Although cotton was king from the 1870‘s until the 1930’s, early in this century Lloyd Bell realized that this industry was declining. He went to California in 1912 seeking new business ideas. Three years later he returned with seventy-two white leghorn hens. After several years of diligent experimentation, he shipped the first broilers by railway express to New Orleans in 1921. About the same time he opened the first feed store in Smiley with his brother A.R. Bell and Tip Cantley as partners.
In 1928 Bell, his brother, and O.R. Culpepper started his own produce company which also dressed turkeys on a large scale. During the 30’s and 40’s this tiny community was given the title of the world’s largest poultry center. During the 1980's emphasis shifted from broilers to egg production, with many poultry producers diversifying into grasses and cattle.
Smiley’s population has remained quite stable in recent decades. The 1980 census set the number at 505. This figure does not reveal the cooperative and generous achievements of the people. For example, the public library, established in 1938, found a permanent home in 1977 when the Stella Ellis Hart residence was donated to the City.
Other examples of cooperative effort are represented by the Volunteer Fire Department, the Emergency Ambulance Service shared with Nixon, and the annual Settler’s Set-to celebration held each May since 1978. Organizations which have made outstanding contributions are the Masonic Lodge from 1876 to 1979, the Woman’s Study Club from 1938 to 1973, the Odd Fellows still active, and several youth groups. Girl Scout Troop 644 placed fifth in the nation for it 1984 “Operation Gravestone” project. The Junior Historian chapter is currently rehabilitating two rural school structures relocated to downtown and to be used for a variety of community activities. The religious foundations of the citizens are attested to by these churches: Baptist, Methodist, Efesco Baptist, and St. Philip’s Catholic. As early as 1911 the citizens voted to have a publish school district and they built a two- story red brick structure. Other buildings were added to the campus in the 1940’s. In 1983 the school system consolidated with that of Nixon.
Since its incorporation in 1949, the town’s development has been guided by a mayor and five councilmen. Those who have served as mayor are: Miller Manford, J.L. Ellis, Andrew Culpepper, Homer Goldman, W.W. Todd, Duane Stearns, Donald Janicek, and L.F. Poehler. Marietta Canion acted as mayor the first five months of 1977. City street paving actually began in 1925 when State Highway 87 became the town’s “main street.” During the decade from 1941 to 1951 Durwood Manford, as State Representative and Speaker of the House, wrote the bill which established farm-to-market roads. The first to be paved was FM 108 linking Smiley to Gonzales.
Major achievements of the city include two federal housing projects, and sewage system, and several water supply improvements. Old Smiley Lake is a memory; the city now draws from another natural supply, the artesian stratas. Two flowing wells produce water for all businesses and residences within the city limit.
The people of Smiley continue to meet the challenges of this area’s resources and to adapt to it changing conditions.