Nearly 100 years ago the community of Waneta in northeast Houston County was a bustling community of farmers carving a living out of East Texas.
In 1914 they had built a new school building. Now, sadly, after succumbing to the elements of East Texas the building is being torn down.
When the last board is pulled out, with it will go the last vestige of a community’s former glory.
The owner of the building, Dale Dykes, hates to see the building go, but it is becoming a safety hazard, and even though the building has a Texas historical marker, Mr. Dykes said the historical commission said the building was too far gone to renovate.
It’s especially hard for Dykes to see the building go. His grandmother taught school in the three-room building and it was his ancestors who donated the land for the building nearly 100 years ago.
“This place means a lot to my family,” Mr. Dykes said. “This is the last thing we wanted to see happen to it.”
In 1852 Mr. Dykes ancestors, Charles Butler, was able to acquire the land around Waneta. As the community grew up it was placed on a stagecoach route from Nacogdoches to San Antonio, according to a history of the community by Betsey Dykes. A nearby stagecoach inn was still standing until it was torn down a couple of years ago.
In 1860 Charles Butler had his farm established to where it produced 1,200 bushels of oats, 33 bales of cotton, 20 bushels of peas, 300 bushels of potatoes and 30 pounds of butter provided by his 13 milk cows.
By 1870 other settlers had moved to the area, helping to create a thriving community, and by 1899, it was thriving enough to have gotten its own post office.
A few years later the community decided a school was needed to educate the youth of the area.
Mrs. Dyke’s research showed the Red Prairie School District and New Hope Common School District consolidated and formed Waneta School on land furnished by C.W. Butler.
The original structure was a two room building with a hallway dividing the two classrooms.
Darren Farley, who is taking apart the old school, said the skill of the builders and the materials they used are unparalleled by anything today.
“They used hand-hewn pine beams for the floor joists,” Farley said. “Under that they had oak sills. Where the roof is still intact all that wood is still in good shape — it’s just amazing.”
Full dimensioned planed 2 x 4s were used for the walls. They were paneled with 1 x 3 tongue-and-groove pine boards with lap siding on the exterior walls.
“A lot of this wood is in better shape than anything you can buy today,” Farley continued. “You look at this wood, and when it was built — this was virgin pine lumber. The trees that made this lumber was here long before the first settlers got here.”
The school was officially opened in 1914. In 1924 an auditorium was added to the back of the school. The stage in the auditorium is still standing as a testament to the Christmas pageants and school plays that happened over the years.
In 1928 the building became much more to the community than just a school building — it also became a place of worship when the New Hope Church began holding services in the building.
“There was no separation back then,” Farley said. “This is where you came to learn about God and other lessons. The people who went to school in this little building learned just as much as the kids do now who go to school in their new, modern buildings.
“They went to school here and then on to be pillars in their communities.”
As with many forgotten communities across East Texas, World War II forever changed the landscape.
Many of the young men who grew up around Waneta joined the armed forces, and when the war was over most moved to the big cities to find jobs away from the farm.
In 1949 the school was consolidated with the Grapeland School District and the children of the community had to take a 9-mile bus ride to Grapeland for daily lessons.
Church continued to be held until 1977, before the congregation moved on to other places.
In 1991 Mr. Dykes said a marker was dedicated to the memory of the Waneta school and community.
He said he has managed to save a few of the relics from the old school building, but most of them have disappeared over time and now even memories are fading about this once vibrant agriculture community that boasted of a store, grist mill, cotton gin, a sawmill and a blacksmith — not to mention generations of men and women who called it home.