Andrew Barney Cook had come to Titus County in 1851 as a teenager, when his widowed mother and the rest of the family moved from Georgia to claim his father’s land. In 1856 he married Sarah Gray Rountree and shortly thereafter settled on a 160-acre plot on the road between Omaha and Springhill given to him by his father-in-law Seaborn Jones Rountree.
In 1867 after returning from the Civil War, he moved to the village of Clay Hill on the road between Omaha and Mount Pleasant (now US 67) where he opened the first general store in the area. The store was initially no more than a shack next to his house but was expanded over the next few years and in 1879 when the “Tyler Tap” (later the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway, and still later the St. Louis Southwestern) arrived in 1880, he built a large mercantile building facing the tracks. He supposedly bribed the railroad surveyor to move the tracks several hundred feet to avoid his cropland – Cook had by then amassed over a thousand acres of farmland in the area.
According to the recollection of his son Reuben, “he had a well-assorted stock of goods – dry goods and groceries, boots and shoes, clothing, some drugs, especially Smith’s Bile Beans, Groves’ Chill Tonic, Calomel and quinine, name it and take it; and a large room added to back of store containing flour and salt by carload, bagging and ties, John Deere and Kelly stocks and plow points, sweeps, saddles, plow lines, single or double trees, etc.”
In June 1880 the name of the town was changed to Cookville in honor of “Major” Cook. About that time he built a large house on the other side of the highway facing his store. It burned shortly afterward but was quickly replaced. He retired from his store and farming in 1895 and died in 1902.
The town was never much more than a village, with a population below 500 in the 1880 census. According to the Handbook of Texas:
“Cookville began to grow in the late 1870s, when it became a station on the narrow-gauge East Line and Red River Railroad. By 1884 the town had an estimated population of 500 and was a major shipping and supply center for farmers in eastern Titus and western Morris counties. During the 1890s the population of the town dropped from 600 to 250. During the early years of the twentieth century it began to grow again. By 1914 Cookville had a bank, a telephone company, several stores, and 800 residents. The economy was linked directly with the prosperity of the cotton farmers in the area. When the price of cotton plummeted in 1920, the bank and a number of other businesses were forced to close. By 1925 the population had fallen to 420. In 1990 Cookville had one business and a population of 105. The population remained unchanged in 2000.”
Many of those few residents were ancestors of mine. Cookville was home to my Bynum, Cook, and Witt ancestors. The Old Cookville Cemetery contains graves for at least six of my direct ancestors. A few other ancestors, including my mother and her mother, were born in Cookville.