Newton County
September 2009

Ralph Huskey, Steve & Kathy Wilkening

NEWTON COUNTY. Newton County is in southeastern Texas on the Louisiana border. Newton County comprises 950 square miles of the lower regions of the East Texas timber belt. Common trees include longleaf and shortleaf pines, oak, magnolia, hickory, and cypress. The rolling terrain, dominated by loamy topsoils, ranges from 30 to 300 feet above sea level. The Sabine River forms the county's eastern boundary. Major tributaries in the county include, from north to south, Little Cow Creek, Quicksand Creek, Big Cow Creek, and Big Cypress Creek. Oil and gas dominate the county's mineral resources. Temperatures range from an average high in July of 93° F to an average January low of 40° F. Rainfall averages just over fifty-four inches annually, the highest for any county in the state. The growing season extends for 228 days per year. Indians were the earliest human inhabitants of Newton County. Artifacts attributed to members of the Caddo confederacies have been located in present-day Newton County. The Atakapans, whose name means "man-eaters" in Choctaw, occupied the coastal regions around the Sabine River and may also have ventured into Newton County. The Coushattas, who migrated to lower East Texas during the early 1800s, also came through the county. In fact, one of the earliest trails through the area was known as the Coushatta Trace. The lands which eventually comprised Newton County were included in Lorenzo de Zavala's 1829 grant from the Mexican government. At least twenty-one settlers received title to land now in the county in 1834 and 1835. Most of the area of present-day Newton County was part of the Municipality of Liberty from 1831 to 1834 and the Municipality of Bevil, which later became Jasper County, from 1834 to 1846. The area north of the Little Cow Creek, which includes one-fifth of the present county, was within the Municipality of San Augustine in 1834-35 and the Municipality of Sabine from 1835 to 1837, before becoming part of Jasper County in 1837. The state legislature marked off Newton County on April 22, 1846, from the eastern half of Jasper County and named it in honor of John Newton, a veteran of the American Revolution. The county's boundaries have remained unchanged since that time save for a small cession along the western border to Jasper in 1852.

As had been the case before the Civil War, agriculture remained important from 1880 to 1930. The number of farms in Newton County nearly doubled during the fifty-year period. Corn, cotton, cattle, and hogs served as staples in the county's agricultural economy. Sheep ranching enjoyed a brief span of popularity, although the number of these animals raised in the county declined rapidly after 1900. The population grew steadily during these years, from 4,359 in 1880 to 12,395 in 1930.

The Great Depression and gradual depletion of available stands of timber had a severe impact upon Newton County. As late as 1940, public emergency work programs employed 468 persons (10.7 percent of the total work force); another 302 (6.6 percent of the total work force) were still seeking work. As a result of the economic woes, increasing numbers of persons began to seek work outside Newton County. Industrial plants at Beaumont and Orange attracted particularly large numbers. Fortunately, these commuters were able to use the county's improving system of roadways. U.S. Highway 190, which provides the main east-west thoroughfare, was paved by the mid-1940s. State Highway 87, the major north-south route, was completely paved by 1955.

Other changes also contributed to the transformation of life in Newton County. While a few towns (including Newton and Deweyville) had electric service before 1925, electricity became available for the county's rural residents during the late 1930s. As part of the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration, the Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative provided electric power to the northern part of the county. The Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative served the county's southern residents. Moderate deposits of oil were also found in Newton County.

Newton County continued to grow slowly in the 1980s. In 1990 the county population was 13,569. The Toledo Bend Reservoir, along the northern boundary, provided new recreational facilities and attracted tourists to Newton County. Oil and gas deposits also figured in the local economy. Opportunities in wholesale and retail trade, along with service-related fields, increased in the 1970s and 1980s as well. The decline in agriculture from 1930 to 1960 seems to have been halted. The number of farms, which fell from a high of 1,565 in 1940 to a low of 192 in 1959, increased to 323 in 1982. While cotton-growing has virtually disappeared in Newton County, farmers have produced increasing amounts of hay, and cattle raising continues to play an important role in the county's economy. More importantly, proper forest management and reforestation programs have in recent years rejuvenated the county's available timber resources, and in 1990 forestry was the main agricultural activity in the county.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Newton County Historical Commission, Glimpses of Newton County History (Burnet, Texas: Nortex, 1982). Josephine Cochrum Peavy, A History of Newton County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1942).