De Kalb is on U.S. Highway 82, 12 miles northwest of New Boston in western Bowie County and 13 miles south of Oklahoma where U.S. Highway 259 intersects U.S. Highway 82.
De Kalb is one of the earliest settlements in the county. According to some county histories a community took shape in the winter of 1835, when David Crockett visited the site on his way to the Alamo. These sources claim that when Crockett enquired about the name of the town, residents told him it had none and then asked him to name it. He suggested the name of the Prussian Baron de Kalb, a general of the American Revolutionary Army.
One purpose for founding the community was to establish a school. In fact, several of the early settlers were involved in the successful effort to get the Texas Congress to grant land for the establishment of De Kalb College in 1839. The school, however, seems to have been located several miles south of the community. Because De Kalb was supposed to serve as an educational focal point for surrounding farmers, the land owners attempted to restrict settlement to those they considered acceptable. As David Chisholm wrote in 1837, “This town or village is situated on Browning’s and my land, about one half mile from my house. This land is not to be sold to any Tom, Dick, or Harry to put up dram shops on, but for those who wish to have the river for health or the benefit of the school.”
At one point in our town’s history, there was a resort located in the Dalby Springs community which offered “healing waters” for its guests. For more information on this, please contact the Williams House museum.
De Kalb served as the first seat of Bowie County in 1841 and although it was on prime agricultural land, the town grew slowly. One important cause was the lack of efficient, reliable transportation. When the Texas and Pacific Railway was built through the county in 1876, De Kalb became a station on the rail line and the town’s population increased. By 1884 it had two churches, a school, a gin, a sawmill-gristmill, and a population of 200. By 1890 the town had a population of 500, a bank, and a weekly newspaper, the Flag, edited by L. A. Petit. Afterward, De Kalb grew slowly to a population of 1,023 by the 1930s.
In 1980 it had a population of 2,217. Agriculture remained of vital importance to the local economy, but, whereas cotton had been the dominant area crop during the19th and early 20th centuries, it was replaced by vegetables, fruit, livestock, and hay. The town’s businesses reflected that change. In the 1950’s rice farming was brought to the area by Edward H. Blackmon. This was the first time anyone had previously tried putting in levies and lakes to properly farm rice in this entire part of Texas and the four states area. By the 1970s De Kalb was known for its cannery and its large shipments of tomatoes. Many of its residents were also employed at Red River Army Depot in eastern Bowie County. In 1990 the population was 1,976, and, in 2000, it was 1,769. One of the most interesting features of the town, the Saw Mill and Lumber yard is still in existence today, owned by Chuck Phillips. This De Kalb institution has been in his family for years. This unique local attractions ships lumber and other supplies to all parts of the country and facilitates hometown building projects with such a nearby source for materials needed in the construction of new homes and businesses.
Today, agriculture is still the occupation of many; however, others work at nearby businesses. De Kalb continues to court and get new types of business, such as the new Blast Off facility which handles refurbishing of military vehicles and other contracts.
De Kalb has a large community and great health care services for such a small town. It has a full service pharmacy with a gift shop, a full service physical therapy clinic, a full service medical clinic, and several home health care businesses. Because of the wonderful services in the health field, De Kalb offers retirees all of the services they may be accustomed to in larger cities without/t all of the crowds and traffic.
De Kalb also offers a wide variety of churches, some with excellent youth programs. De Kalb’s local organizations (there are many) offer scholarship opportunities for our young people and support their efforts to become good citizens and productive members of society.
Essentially, De Kalb continues to attract people and business owners from near and far because of its friendly people and precise location at the junction of Highway 82 and Highway 259. There is an Industrial Park located where the highways come together that offers great incentives to new businesses who wish to start up or relocate. If you are interested in locating your business in our Industrial Park, please see the last page of the web site where our Industrial Board Members’ information is located.
We welcome any additional bits of history and information that you may be able to ad to enhance historical portion of our site.
De Kalb maintains a Museum, The Williams House.
As you step on to the lawn, you step back into the past and are surrounded by many mementos from the past including items belonging to Dan Blocker, items concerning the town’s founders and an item that memorializes the famous crooner Ricky Nelson, whose plane tragically crashed in De Kalb in the 1980s. The Museum is lovingly maintained by a group called Friends of the Williams House. They are currently seeking donations to complete a pavilion, just next to the museum.
Presently there are two projects that we need YOUR help with at the Williams House. First, we are building a Pavillion which we hope will serve as a memorial to the late Ricky Nelson and are attempting to contact family members to arrange that. Further, we are also planning to devote an entire room to Dan Blocker’s memory and are in the process of working through the details on that also. Please help us out with any information you may have on how to contact these two families and any memorabilia you may wish to donate.
Almost every week the column, “From My Swing” is found in the De Kalb News with information concerning bits of history from our town and area.
For tours, information, or donations call: 903/667-3344
Ask about the historic cemeteries located in De Kalb.