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 fourth of five installments, the Register looks at Gainesville as it took shape during the adulthood of Don Howeth, the business’s fourth operator.
Don Howeth, 1925-2019
When Don Howeth came to run the business, he was the fourth generation Howeth to do so. But he didn’t go into the family business right away in his 20s like the other Howeths before him. Don joined the U.S. Army and served his country in both World War II and the Korean War. In between, he got married and finished his degree at Texas A&M University, not returning to Gainesville until 1956 at age 31 to run what was now called W.W. Howeth Abstract Co.
The ’50s and ’60s were boom times with strong population growth keeping the company very busy. It was also a time of commercial growth as National Supply came in 1954 and Weber Aircraft in 1967. The community was heavily invested in the oil and gas industry which was a plus through the ’70s and a great challenge into the ’80s and beyond. Howeth was part of several big land projects focused on water during this time with one project whose timing helped them stabilize the business and avoid the downturn and business closures taking place all around them.
The first project was Moss Lake. When city leaders determined Gainesville needed a new water supply, they voted in 1964 to purchase 1,360 acres off Fish Creek to create Moss Lake. Howeth played a role in the abstract and surveys to help make this happen.
The next big project was Lake Kiowa. American Realty wanted a lake community in Texas. They picked the spot in southeast Cooke County for their new venture. American Realty needed the cooperation and pledge of secrecy from Don Howeth to get the project off the ground. So in summer 1966, Don Howeth and Hoot Gibson began buying the necessary 22 tracts of land. By 1969, lots were selling and Lake Kiowa was on its way to becoming a premiere community. Don Howeth moved to Lake Kiowa in 1975 where he became an avid golfer.
The project that helped them weather the oil bust began in the ’70s. The Army Corps of Engineers determined Dallas needed to add another lake in North Texas to Lake Dallas, Lake Lewisville and Lake Grapevine. It was to provide drinking water for the city of Dallas. Don Howeth played a pivotal role in the abstract and surveys of the land for what was to become Ray Roberts Lake. Those who worked for Don remember that there was not much work other than Ray Roberts Lake during that time.
Don was active in the community. He was president of the chamber of commerce, served on the school board, was a member of Rotary International and Freemasonry and an active member of the United Methodist Church. He was progressive enough to buy a computer for the business but old-school enough not to computerize the business.
By 1994, Don was 69 and ready to retire but there was not an heir who was interested in running the business. If W.W. Howeth Abstract Co. was to carry on, he would need to find a local citizen to take the reins. In the next installment, the story continues with a local citizen saying yes.