Van Vleck Information

Van Vleck Information

By Bertha Wells

The present site of Van Vleck was originally known as Hardeman's Post Office.  The Hardemans migrated to Texas from Tennessee and settled in this area prior to 1836. Today, only the old Hardeman Cemetery and the oak trees bear witness to the life lived there by some of the early settlers of Van Vleck and Matagorda County.

The following article appeared in the centennial issue of the Matagorda County Tribune August 23, 1945:

One of the most respected matrons of Bay City is Mrs. Annie Lewis Sanborn who was born at Hardeman's Post Office on April 6, 1864.  Hardeman's Post Office was the site now the locale of Van Vleck, some five miles east of Bay City.  Annie Hardeman's grandfather, Bailey Hardeman, was one of the substantial citizens of the county. He was one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  He was of General Sam Houston's army, and his son, Sam Hardeman, Annie's father, was a Confederate soldier.

Today, years later, Van Vleck is still the home of a descendant of Bailey Hardeman, Margaret Gibson Jordan.  Her parents were Edwin A. Gibson and Tenie V. Hardeman.  Margaret Jordan lives in the home in which she was born.

Matagorda County, and by early 1900 a tiny settlement had grown at its terminus. The settlement was named Van Vleck after the Southern Pacific railroad superintendent, W. G. Van Vleck. The Hardeman post office was changed to the Van Vleck post office in January, 1901, and Leander W. Brown continued to serve as postmaster.  In 1902 the Southern Pacific Railway extended its lines from Van Vleck to Bay City.  W. G. Van Vleck came here from Wharton and lived in Annie Johnson's rooming house.  He was a soft-spoken man and was well liked by the people of the community.

A photograph of W. G. Van Vleck was given to Burt O'Connell of Van Vleck in 1963 by a Mr. Hackney, a retired warehouseman of Houston, Texas, and a personal friend of Van Vleck's son After her husband's death, Mrs. Van Vleck ran a rooming house in Houston Her son moved to California, and some years later, she went to live with him, storing her personal belongings and furniture with Hackney.  The Van Vlecks never returned for their possessionsThe original townsite was northwest of the present State Highway 35.  In 1930, when State Highway 35 was constructed, the town moved over with the highway. The original townsite consisted of approximately 156 acres out of the W. J. Maynard League

Some early settlers in the Van Vleck area were: Jim Rainey, Dan O'Connell, Mike O'Connell, Ed Kilbride, Frank Holt, Walter Sojourner, Dr. Scott, Dr. Hooper, Edwin Gibson, P. B. Scoggins, J. G. Barbee, A. C. Fox, Lee Rugeley, and John Cookenboo. Many present-day families are descendents of these early settlers.

Until 1951 these was only one church building in Van Vleck.  Sunday School and worship services were held in the Community Church every Sunday from 2:30 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. All faiths attended the services.  The Reverend L. W. Crouch of El Campo, the Colorado Baptist Associational missionary, took a religious census of this area and realized the need for a Baptist church. On May 1, 1951, a one-room building, the former Pentecostal church of Sargent, was purchased from trustees, E. H. Phillips, C. J. Socha, and Lonzie Theus, for the sum of $2,250.  On May 18, 1951, three lots were purchased from Mr. and Mrs. L. A. Pruett, and on May 25, 1951, the building was moved to its present site in Van Vleck for $350.  The Reverend Morrell, pastor of Cedar Lane Baptist Church, repaired the building.  The First Baptist Church was organized with fifty-seven charter members on May 4, 1952

In March, 1954, a committee composed of Mrs. T. L. Rugeley, Mrs. H. R. Bickham, and Otis Bickham met with the Reverend Conerly of the First Methodist Church of Bay City to discuss the possibility of organizing a Methodist church in Van Vleck.  In 1955 the Presbyterian church was purchased for use as a Methodist church. In June, 1955, the Methodist church was organized with a membership of eighty-one.  The Reverend Charles Shine, a ministerial student, was called as the first pastor, and he preached his first sermon on June 26, 1955.  Land was purchased east of Van Vleck on State Highway 35 for a new sanctuary in 1958.  The new Methodist church was completed in early 1959 with the Reverend Earl Crawford as the first minister in the new building.

One of the oldest homes in the Van Vleck area is one known to most residents as the "Old Rachuig Place."  It is situated about a mile and a half south of Van Vleck on FM 2540. It was built around 1900 by Ed J. Kilbride, who later married Bessie Holt.  On December 15, 1958, the home was purchased from Mrs. Rachuig by Mr. and Mrs. Otha "Skeet" Birkner. The structure of the home has not been changed through the years. 

On March 2,1938, a bond issue of $35,000 was voted 70-20 to finance the construction of a one-story brick school building.  After the WPA agreed to furnish a grant of $28,830, construction of the building started November 22, 1938, and was completed June 20, 1939.  Mrs. Phillip Johnson was president of the school board, and Mrs. T. L. Rugeley was secretary.  Other members were Mrs. L. T. Bickham, J. S. Richardson, W. T. Orrell, Vincent L. Holub, and Mack Brown.  Elijah Rudd was superintendent of schools.

The new modern building housed grades one through nine. Under Rudd's leadership, the Van Vleck school became a two-year high school in 1938 and a full four year high school in 1941-42.  Rudd served the Van Vleck schools from 1938 to 1952.

In 1948 Van Vleck Independent School District consolidated with Common School Districts No. 6, 7, and 8 which were Sargent, Cedar Lane, and Lukefahr.  This increased enrollment to 350 pupils and teacher personnel to 18. The 1964-65 school enrollment showed 523 students in the white schools and 542 students in the colored school.  The schools desegregated in 1969-70 under superintendent Wayne Cornelius. In 1974-75 a new elementary school was completed, and in 1976 a new high school was erected. In 1984 the enrollment reached 1,155 pupils under Lester Cobb, who has been superintendent since 1976. There are 336 square miles in the Van Vleck School District.

The Rural Electric Association (REA) furnishes Van Vleck and outlying areas with electricity.  In 1962 natural gas was connected to homes in Van Vleck by Houston Natural Gas Company.  Van Vleck's own water and sewage disposal plant went into production in 1963. It is known as the Matagorda County Water Control and Improvement District No. 6.

The population of Van Vleck in 1984 was approximately 4,000.

Submitted by Gale French 

Drawing, Judge J. G. Barbee, Manager Van Vleck Townsite Company


Copyright 2006 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Jan. 1, 2006
Sep. 5, 2013