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California Street in downtown Gainesville still had dirt roads when this photograph was taken circa 1905.

The oldest continuously operated company in Gainesville and Cooke County and oldest independent title company in the state of Texas is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year — the Howeth Title Co. Five operators have run the business throughout the years, and in this second of five installments, the Register looks at Gainesville as it took shape during the adulthood of W.W. Howeth, the business’s second operator.

W.W. Howeth, 1848-1913

W.W. Howeth Land and Abstract title office opened in 1869 when W.W. was 21. He must have been quite a leader as he was a member of the first city council when Gainesville incorporated in 1873, serving with J.M. Lindsay, Lemuel Gooding, E.C. Peery and J.C. Latimer at the ripe old age of 25. The 1880s were a time of great prosperity and growth in Gainesville. The decade began with 2,667 residents and ended in 1890 with 6,594. Numerous land sales took place that needed to be researched and recorded during that decade.

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W.W. Howeth was the younger of the two Howeths who founded W.W. Howeth Land and Abstract title office. He went on to serve on Gainesville city council and as mayor.

W.W.’s contemporaries would have witnessed the Cattle Raisers Convention, held at the new Lindsay House twice during that decade. For the event in 1888, a cowman’s wife ordered a gown from Paris at a cost of $1,500, or about $42,000 in today’s dollars. When the Atchison,

Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1886, Gainesville was thereby linked from Galveston to Chicago. Between cattle and cotton, there was tremendous wealth as evidenced by the houses being built and the infrastructure improvements. Rapid change continued during the 1880s to the turn of the century. A law passed requiring all businesses to have a hitching post, only to see the automobile arrive five years later. Gas lines were installed for gas lighting and within seven years electric was lighting city hall. Telegraph poles were installed and in no time the telephone arrived. And while cattle was king in the 1880s, by 1900 Cooke County had transitioned to agriculture. W.W. served on city council again in 1888 and was mayor in 1900.

During the 1890s Gainesville introduced the police department with two officers and one sanitary worker. The first public schools opened with 10 teachers. Bonds were passed to build a city hall that would include a jail and firehouse, a building which today houses the Morton Museum. The fire department was formed. Graveling of sidewalks was required by ordinance. It was also the time of the real gunfight at the OK Corral, Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” the arrival and dedication of the Statue of Liberty and the first land run in Oklahoma.

W.W.’s father William passed away in 1891 at age 73. W.W. was then running the business on his own at 43; his son J.D. was just 4 at the time. The next major change to their business came in 1903 when W.W. bought the second Underwood typewriter in Gainesville. The first was purchased by the county. The transition to typing records was underway. W.W. was a historian who had a habit of writing on the documents, inserting historical facts about the family involved in the transactions.

The early 1900s saw Gainesville transition into a city with much to do. The opera house opened in 1896 with live performances and then the first motion picture theater opened in 1905. City council purchased the land for Leonard Park for $5,000 in 1901. The Santa Fe depot opened with a Harvey House in 1902 with tablecloths and silver, and the first city library opened in 1903. The cemetery that the Howeths donated to the city was renamed Fairview Cemetery during that time.

W.W. passed away in 1913, but not before witnessing the first Model T’s traveling the newly bricked California Street, the opening of the fourth and current courthouse, and the first airplane to land in town, though by mistake.

W.W.’s son J.D. took over the business in 1913 when he was 26 years old. The following installment covers the roller coaster ride during his adulthood, from 1913 to the 1950s

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