History of Van, Texas
The first settlers in Van were farmers who arrived around 1860-1870. By 1880 a school was built on land donated by George W. Swindall who later donated land for a Methodist Church in 1891. The community, with the church and school, became unofficially known as Swindall. On June 18, 1894 a post office was established by the area’s first postmaster, James H. Vance, and the town’s name was officially established as Van.
Van Texas’ Oil Boom & The Unit Plan of Operation
Drastic changes occurred when oil was discovered on the Jarman lease on October 14, 1929 and the tiny town was launched into an oil boomtown overnight. The tranquility of this small farming community was gone forever with estimates of as high as 8,000 people converging on Van. The longevity of the oil field and the town was assured when the major oil companies – Sun Oil, Shell Petroleum, The Texas Company and the Humble Oil and Refining Company – led by the Pure Oil Company, developed the Unit Plan of Operation. The companies united to limit the uncontrolled extraction of oil from the underground reserves. This assured the maximum recovery of oil and gas at a minimum cost. The Pure Oil Company managed the field and was the major lease holder. The Unit Plan became so well known that numerous colleges from all over the United States sponsored field trips to Van each year.
Small Texas Town in the Wild, Wild West
During the early days of the oil boom, law enforcement and crime prevention were major concerns of the local citizens as well as the county. All worked to prevent the lawlessness that had occurred in other cities like Borger and Mexia, and famous Texas Ranger “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas made occasional appearances in Van to further discourage criminal elements. In July of 1930 a railroad spur line was built by the Texas Shortline Railway Company that connected Van with the Texas and Pacific Railroad in Grand Saline. The purpose was to transport oilfield equipment and supplies and passengers to and from Van by rail rather than mule drawn wagons over muddy, and sometimes impassable, roads. The eleven miles of track from Grand Saline to the Pure Oil Company warehouse in Van was constructed at a cost of $400,000.00.
Van, TX During World War II
Van’s oil field played an important part in supplying oil and gas products to the World War II effort. In the war years of the 1940′s, Van produced enough crude oil to yield more than 600,000,000 gallons of gasoline and was able to contribute to allied efforts across the Atlantic Ocean. Locally, oil revenues enabled the building of a school system superior to any in the county. During World War II, when most schools had to curtail building programs, cut curriculum, and reduce the size and salaries of their faculties, the Van school system was building, hiring, and growing. Surrounding communities were able to take advantage of this excellent educational facility as one by one their schools closed and were consolidated with the Van Independent School District.
Van Becomes a Self-Governing City
Van was incorporated in 1947 and the first elected mayor was E.R. Tunnell. Council members were C.C. Moore, C.L. Curlee, E.B. Tunnell, J.C. Craddock, and R.A. Howell. Instead of depending on the Pure Oil Company for fire protection, a Volunteer Fire Department was organized, along with an ambulance service. Dr. William J. Garrett, Jr. opened his medical practice in 1946 and built a clinic in 1951. In 1949 a bank opened its doors for business. In 1951 a hardware store was opened by the Hilliard family and in 1960 they built the first funeral home in Van.
What Happened to Van, Texas Oil Companies?
An employer of many towns people for over 35 years, the Pure Oil Company merged with Union Oil Company of California in 1965. The oil field is currently under the management and ownership of Chevron. These companies have all contributed financially and worked hand in glove with the town and school to make the community a desirable place to live and raise a family. Oil production in Van has declined but it still remains an oil town. Although pump jacks are still seen behind downtown businesses, in back yards, church yards and among the hay fields and cattle, the sea of oil derricks no longer grace the skyline.
Van, A Texas City With a Rich Heritage
Today, Van continues to thrive as a community proud of its rich heritage and history. Oil is still honored each year with the celebration of the Oil Festival in October. The Van Area Oil & Historical Museum has been opened in an old oilfield warehouse, and in 2006 expanded to include a turn of the century log cabin on the grounds. Seven historical markers are located within the city limits and more are being written to document its fascinating history in detail. Most of the generation who witnessed the oil boom are no longer with us, and what they held captive in their “mind’s eye” is lost forever. Van was fortunate to have had among its residents for a short time in 1929 and 1930, a photographer by the name of C.S. Nicks whose pictures have forever captured those historic moments in time. He helped preserve Van’s past as a gift to the future.
The City of Van Thrives While Preserving the Small Town Charm of the Past
Van has merged into the 21st century with enthusiasm and energy and works diligently to provide its citizens with an excellent quality of life. A medical clinic affiliated with a major hospital in Tyler provides for local medical needs. Nursing homes have become available to the elderly and a community center serves the needs of its citizens. Numerous churches are now in existence to provide for the religious needs of the community. Meals on Wheels are provided for the home-bound and government project housing is available. Interstate Highway 20 has made travel easier and brings in customers for local businesses. Mom and Pop type grocery stores gave way to food centers and then to a major grocery chain. An industrial park exists and the Van Economic Development Corporation works with the City Council to expand the city’s economic base. The Chamber of Commerce works to strengthen and expand the income potential of all businesses within the community. The City of Van continues to place a high priority on education and the Van ISD provides outstanding educational opportunities as well as first rate facilities at its J.E. Rhodes Elementary School, Middle School, Intermediate School, Junior High School, and High School.
Come Visit Van, the Best City in East Texas!
If you’d like to come see the oil boom, WWII and Wild West history of Van and experience the charm of small town ambiance while enjoying big city amenities, then come visit us! If you need any help planning your visit, want to learn more about Van’s history, or are considering Van for a possible relocation, don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll answer any questions you might have!