The History of Forney

Visit the Forney Historic Preservation League.

In 1847, Sallie Daugherty came from Arkansas with her four sons and purchased 1,000 acres of land four miles southeast of present-day Forney, naming the area Union Hill. This area later became known as Lone Elm. In 1848, Kaufman County was carved out of the huge Nacogdoches County. In the late 1840's, Jacob Sheltman settled on his homestead two miles southwest of our town and began farming and raising his family.

In the early 1850's, more settlers began to arrive in this area. The John G. Lewis family arrived from Mississippi in 1855 and carved a homestead out the prairie and timber land south on what was called the Sheltman Lake property. Lewis and his son, John M., both enlisted as privates in the Confederate Army in 1861, being the only two Forney area people to do so as can be determined. Many other veterans later moved here after the great war. By 1860, many hardy settlers entered booming Texas, mainly from the South. Hearing of the good land of the rolling prairies of this North Central Texas area, many stopped here and began their lives as farmers and ranchers. The small village that began to spring up near the rim of the bluff that overlooked the Bois D'Arc Fork of the Trinity River was to be named Brooklyn. Some say it was named for a small brook that ran in a wooded area near the present school Administration building on Bois D'Arc Street in south Forney. Possibly, it was named for the Brooks family that arrived here in the 1860's from their home in Brookville, Mississippi.

By the late 1860's, the Village of Brooklyn was established as the only town and trading center on this prairie land east of Dallas and west of Kaufman. Terrell was not founded as a town until 1873.

By the 1870's, John C. McKellar arrived from Marshall and opened Brooklyn's first merchandise store near the present day school district administration building. His father, John A. McKellar, had sent his son to Brooklyn to get a head start in business as he knew the new railroad line would likely come through this area. A saloon and other small businesses soon sprang up near the McKellar store and the layout of the town as we know it today began.

By 1873, Brooklyn was a growing town, with saloons, merchandise store, lodge, and was being supported by a few hundred people. It was the year that the Texas and Pacific Railroad come through Brooklyn, which was to change the face of our town forever.

As the town progressed, through the influence the Railroad provided, it was now ready for a Post Office to satisfy the residents' needs. The name of Brooklyn was submitted to the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., however, another town by the same name with a Post Office was already established in Fayette County, so another name had to be selected for our town if it wished postal service. Changing of a town name was unusual, even in 1873. John Wein Forney, born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1817, was a director of the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company and was believed to have been instrumental in the new railroad route through the village of Brooklyn. In gratitude to Mr. Forney, several influential residents suggested Forney's name be submitted as a Post Office, and it was accepted. Thus the name of the town of Forney was established permanently.

The prairies that surrounded the town were covered with a native grass that was found to produce a sweet, nutritious hay when cut and baled. For the next 50 years "Forney Prairie Hay"' as it was known, was one of the leading export products of Forney.

When the peak of the hay industry had been reached, cotton took its place. Money and wealth came to many large landowners from hay and then cotton. By 1910, Forney boasted of eight cotton gins, the most for its size of any town in Texas. Fifteen to twenty thousand bales of cotton were ginned each fall and shipped to cotton markets across the United States.

Water was a resource that the city most needed in the early days, and several early drilling attempts ended in failure. On Thanksgiving Day in 1911, an artesian well of a depth of 2020 feet poured forth, and the town celebrated. This well supplied Forney as its main water source until the 1950's, when water was provided from then until present from Lake Lavon and the North Texas Municipal Water District. Electricity and city water and sewer lines were completed in the 1910-1912 period, making Forney one the the first smaller Texas towns to have these services.

The new Dixie Highway (U.S. 80) opened through Forney in the late 1920's, resulting in better automobile travel in this area. The Texas Interurban Railway Company began operations in 1923 on its Dallas-Forney-Terrell rail line. Running through Forney on Church Street, this streetcar-type electric rail line served for 10 years as an advanced commuter type service, a source unequaled before or since.

The Works Progress Administration constructed a new Spanish-style high school in Forney during 1937-39. Although in the depths of the Depression, the students of our town could boast one of the most modern and beautiful school buildings in the state when it was completed. The high school building was located on the original site of the first school in Forney, more than 71 years before.

During the 1940-1950 period, the town came virtually to a standstill, due primarily to the Second World War. Very few, if any, new businesses were opened in the city. Many larger companies chose Garland and Mesquite during the post-war period, after considering Forney as a prospective home. Little residential building was recorded and the town slumbered as many of its neighbors grew like wildfire. In the 1960's, attitudes began to change and key things happened that would affect Forney at a later date. The town joined the North Texas Municipal Water District as a charter member - a bold but unpopular decision of Forney's City Council that assured the town an adequate water supply for years to come.

The area north of the new Interstate Highway 20 was exclusively farmland in the 1960's. Today it composes a major residential section of Forney. During the late 1960's, a new elementary school was completed in South Forney and the city became a three-school town. It was during the 60's that the Forney High School jackrabbit football team won approximately 100 games in a ten-year period, one of the winningest records in Texas and a proud heritage of Forney athletes.

In the late 1960's, Glenn "Red" Whaley opened the first antique business in east Forney, the genesis of the huge antique business the city boasts today. Forney has now been recognized by the Texas Senate as the "Antique Capital of Texas" (Senate Resolution #101 - July, 1987).

Visit the Forney Historic Preservation League.