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.
Beginning as an abstract and survey company and changing as the business regulations changed through the years, Howeth has a unique perspective on the history of the place it calls home — recording the land sales and in many ways, the community’s history.
Five operators have run the business throughout the years — William Howeth, W. W. Howeth, J.D. Howeth, Don Howeth and Phil and Ruth Adams. This kicks off a series looking at Gainesville as it existed during each proprietor’s tenure.
William Howeth, 1818–1891
William was born to Thomas Howeth and Nancy James, the aunt of Frank and Jesse James. The family moved to Cooke County west of Gainesville in 1853. William was a land surveyor for the state of Texas. When they moved here they were considered the most advanced settlers in the area, at one time owning more than 6,400 acres in North Texas. At the time of their arrival Gainesville had a single store, a blacksmith shop, a doctor, a lawyer, a log schoolhouse and a small courthouse that was also used for church services. Thomas and Nancy had 16 children. William was the oldest and was 37 and married by the time they came to town.
Their arrival to Gainesville would come with tragedy. In 1854 a terrible tornado took the life of William’s oldest son and daughter. Their third child, W.W., was 7 years old at the time and recorded this in a letter.
The children were buried in the family plot. The Howeths donated that land to become the city’s cemetery, now Fairview Cemetery. William’s father, Thomas, passed away in 1855 at the age of 58. At the time of Thomas’ death, Mrs. Howeth was one of only 47 adults living in Gainesville.
The family bought land for a new home in 1857 at the southeast corner of Dixon and Pecan streets, which remained in the family for 112 years. 1858 saw the arrival of the Butterfield Stage bringing freight, passengers and mail. 1861 was the start of the Civil War, which ended in 1864. The last of the Native American raids in 1868 signaled safety and growth. William and his son W.W. opened W.W. Howeth Land and Abstract Title Office in 1869 where they surveyed and located lands and certificates for people moving into the county. The business was in an upstairs office on the north side of the square. Those were the days of the open range, cowboys, saloons and soiled doves. Their timing could not have been better as the introduction of barbed wire in 1875 and the railroad in 1879 had cattle ranchers buying up large tracts of land and the population growth was extraordinary, especially by percentage: The population in Gainesville grew from 100 in 1860 to 1,430 in 1879 and 2,667 in 1880, representing 86% growth in one year.
This accelerated growth triggered many new things for the city too, with gas heating and lighting, the installation of wooden sewers and Western Union telegraph poles. Abstracts and titles from that time period were handwritten and through the years have become illegible.
The city of Gainesville was beginning to take shape in 1881 when William was 63 and W.W. was 33. The next installment will pick up with W.W.’s leadership of Cooke County’s oldest business.