Van is located on Farm Road 314, State Highway 110, and Interstate 20 in East central Van Zandt County. The first settlers in the area had already arrived by the time of the Civil War, and by 1874, according to some sources, the town was known as "Ratty Towns" or "Who'd-a-Thought-It". It gained its name when a citizen named Ratty Towns tried to open a store. Later it was named "Swindall" for George Swindall, who donated land, in 1891, for a school, located West of the present business district, as well as land North of that site for a Methodist Church. A post office was established by schoolteacher, Henry Vance, in 1894. The name "Van" was chosen when the post office renamed the community for resident Vannie Tunnell and postmaster Vance. A Pure Oil company survey near the town in 1927 led to the discovery of oil on the property of W. T. Jarman on October 14, 1929. Van became a boom town in 10 days of the discovery. There was an initial production of 147 barrels of oil an hour.
Van experienced a boom, growing from a rural farming community in only ten days. It went from a school, a post office, and a general store to a substantial community with thirty buildings, including hotels and stores, which had been constructed after the discovery of oil. In November, 1929, Sun Oil, Shell Petroleum, the Texas Company, Pure Oil, and Humble became co-owners of the field, with Pure Oil as chief operator. In 1930 the Texas Short Line Railway was extended from Grand Saline to Van. The population of Van numbered 894 throughout the 1930s. State highway maps in 1936 showed two churches, three seasonal industry sites, and numerous dwellings at the townsite. The population declined to 620 during World War II, as workers moved away to jobs in war-related industry, but increased steadily thereafter. Businesses in the community fluctuated from a high of fifty in 1934 to a low of fifteen in 1945, but remained between thirty and forty throughout most of the town's history. Before the 1940s, work on the oil fields was done mostly by horse drawn machinery. By the 1950s Van had a Humble Oil refinery, five churches, and a consolidated independent school district. A total of 591 wells made up the Van field when Pure Oil became a division of Union Oil in 1965. The population of Van grew from 1,103 in 1962 to 1,820 by 1974, when the community received a government housing project. Van continued to grow slowly, reaching a population high of only 1,854 by 1992. The estimated population for Van in 2005 was 2,574.
Arial View of Van, Texas Topographical Map from GoogleEarth.com
Van Area Oil and Historical Museum
The museum is in an old warehouse originally built in 1930 by the Pure Oil Co. to house oil field materials used in the development of the oil field. All of the oil derricks in the Van field have disappeared; however, the museum obtained a derrick and relocated it on the grounds as a reminder of bygone days. Displays include various types of oil related memorabilia as well as history on the area and city.
Open Wednesday -Saturday 10 a.m. - noon, 1- 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New year's Day. Located at Texas 16 and County Road 1501. For information, call 903/ 963-5435
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