History of the Oak Dale Community
Oak Dale, the small agricultural community founded about 1860, is located 4 miles northwest of Stephenville, Texas on Highway 108 near the Bosque River. On April 11, 1856 land was surveyed by George B. Erath, the surveyor for Milam Land District, in the presence of John M. Stephen. Some of Oak Dale's founding fathers were John R. Pickard, George Washington Lidia, William Jasper Mefford, and James M. Johnson. Other longtime Oak Dale families are the Fannings, Kerrs, Hamptons, Lanes, Sikes, Bouchers, Evans, Stones, and Williams to name a few.
George W. Lidia came to Erath County in 1859. On May 13, 1861 Lidia married John R. Pickards' daughter Mary and settled on the Pickard land at Oakdale which was patented to James Plant assignee of Maria Josefa Jamie in 1848 (Patent #714 v. 8, record book F p.163 McClennan Co) and sold by Phineas deCordova to William E. Motheral through George B. Erath, who had power of attorney (Bosque Co. Deed Records, V.C. p 58). John R. Pickard bought the land from Motheral on August 16, 1867 (Erath County Deed Records, v.B, p. 10). The biography of G.W. Lidia in the book History of Texas published by Lewis Publishing Co. in 1896 gave a good description of the land:
When he (Lidia) took possession of the place the improvements consisted of a little cabin and a cleared tract of ten acres. Acre after acre, however, was soon placed under the plow, and waving fields of grain replaced the desolate, barren tract, while the boundaries of the farm were extended until its area is twelve hundred acres. Of this two hundred and fifty acres are under a high state of cultivation, and the buildings, fences, and other accessories of the model farm indicate the progressive spirit of the owner.(History of Texas, 248)
George Washington and Mary Pickard Lidia had twelve children: John P., W.I., Robert Lee, Jane, Thomas Jefferson, Phineas Ewing, Mina, Sarah Ida, Richard Coke, George W., Samuel H, Arthur, and Oscar who died in infancy. Mary died in 1880. G.W. then married Nancy Lawson and they had four children: Celia Emeline, Pearl, Maud and Blanche. She died in 1891 and G.W. married Nancy's cousin Rachael Theona Lawson and by 1896 they had two children, Bell and Nettie. (History of Texas, 248-9). G.W. Lidia had a total of twenty-three children. The old Lidia log house was still standing in 1983 on the place now owned by the Stone brothers and their families. Pat Lidia Jones, a descendent of G.W. Lidia through his son Thomas Jefferson Lidia located the old log house on a visit to Oak Dale in the mid-1980's, bought it and moved it to their ranch near Albany, Texas and restored it. She recalled that upon entering the log cabin she had a strange feeling and said "I've been in this place before." Her grandparents, the Thomas Jefferson Lidias, lived in the old house still standing on the Kenneth Evans place. Linda Boucher, wife of a grandson of Odd and Em Boucher who owned the Lidia place before the Stone brothers bought it, said that Odd and Em lived in the old log house when they first bought the farm in 1943 and that when it rained it just rained right through the old roof!
William Jasper Mefford was another early settler of the Oak Dale Community coming in 1855. He was born Oct. 31, 1842 in Kentucky. In 1848 Mefford and his family came to Texas first settling in Navarro County and then to Anderson County. Mr. Mefford married Miss Leana Graves Sept. 19, 1866. The Meffords purchased 120 acres of “wild” land at Oak Dale just south of the cemetery in 1870. His property had soon grown to four hundred and forty acres with a quarter section under a high state of cultivation. Seven children were born to W.J. and Leana Mefford. He was very successful in raising various crops and promoting agricultural interests (History of Texas, p.462-463).
The Johnson's were also early settlers of the Oak Dale Community. John Hyman Johnson was born Oct. 29, 1838 in Alabama. He was the son of Rev. James M. And Nancy Johnson and came to Texas with them in 1848 and arrived in Erath county on the 4th of July, 1860. He entered the Civil War Feb. 17, 1862. After the war he taught three sessions of school at Duffau. John H. Johnson married Araminta Mitchel and on the 31st of July, 1868, located on his farm where with his father and two brothers purchased a total of nine hundred and twenty three acres of land for twelve hundred dollars. It was on this land that they raised their nine children. The Johnson's were active in the Oakdale Methodist Episcopal Church South and active in agricultural pursuits(History of Texas, p.465-467).
The first school was a one-room school house on the Bosque and built on the Pickard/Lidia farm. On Aug.4,1876 John R. Pickard sold one and one half acres of land which included the area to the river across the dirt road from the cemetery and about one third to one half of the cemetery bordering the dirt road to Jasper Mefford, John Johnson, and Geo. W. Lidia, trustees, to be used for church and school purposes (Erath County Deed Records, v.F, p. 1 84). Then Jan. 24, 1877 the land was increased to two acres(Erath County Deed Records, v.K p. 188). Then a two story frame school was built directly behind the cemetery. Fern Hassler recalls going to second grade in the two story school. In about 1928 or 1929 that school was torn down and a new school was to be built across highway 108 and north about one half mile up on a hill. However Fern said that Huckabay filed an injunction on Oakdale and they didn't have anywhere to have school for a year and had it in the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church. Finally the new three room school was built. Elvis Ray "Runt" Stone went to the Oak Dale school in sixth grade in 1940-1941. He walked down a dirt road (NOT cliche) everyday because the Stephenville school bus took too long. There were three grades taught in one room. Runt said that you could learn all three grades if you tried. When school was over for the day he "hightailed" it home to tend to the chores. Fern Hassler Whitman was E.R. Stone's teacher. She went to the Oak Dale School and later became a teacher, and was also the Stone's neighbor across the street on Isla Street for almost forty years. Fern said the Oak Dale school had a basketball and baseball team. There were three teachers including Hassler, Lucille Wood, and Clarence Mason. School started in October so that the kids could help get the crops in before, and it ended in April. She said that one year it rained during the day and the Bosque River was high behind the cemetery so Fred Johnson cut down a tree and laid the log across the Bosque. They all walked across the log holding onto each other to get home. One student of Miss Hassler's was always talking so she had him sit in front right by her. The next day he came to school with a clean shirt on and said "if I'm going to be sitting by the teacher I need to have a clean shirt." She said that Runt Stone was always slick and slim. According to Ellen & H.B. Lane every year at the end of school a "hot dog" stand was brought down from Thurber on skids. The Lanes have the old hot dog stand, which has a lot of graffiti written on it,in their back yard. She has restored it and it has been used for a playhouse. They call it the "hot dog house".
Church and school were held in the same one-room log building on Lidia land on the Bosque. "The building also served as a meeting place for all the other denominational groups in the area as well as the community center and the local school house. This first community building in the Oak Dale settlement was built by the first group of settlers in the region. It was agreed that the man to fell the first tree could name the community. Mr. Sam Johnson was quicker with the ax than the other men. He chose to name the community Oak Dale because of the lovely oaks and the grassy dale in which a was located."(Summerlin, A Brief History of the Oakdale Methodist Church) My three great grandmothers and two great aunts and uncles are listed in the Oakdale Methodist Membership Register.
The community had two major religions, Methodists and Baptists. The Oakdale Methodist Church still exists, but moved into Stephenville around 1952, first on McCart Street, and currently in is in a new building on Overhill across from the high school. The Baptist Church \ disbanded at about the same time the Methodist Church moved to town. The first preacher of the Oak Dale Methodist Episcopal Church South was Rev. James M. Johnson. He preached from 1860-1864 and was known as a “gun totin' Methodist preacher” because he carried a pistol and rifle to the pulpit to defend himself from the Indians. Another preacher was the Rev. Peter W. Gravis who preached at Oak Dale twice, 1866-1868 and 1884-1887(King, We Sing Their Harvest Songs, p. 161 ). The Bishop gave Rev. Gravis the "outside ro” as he called it because he was light for running and small to shoot at by the Indians(Gravis, Twenty-five years on the Outside Row, p.41). J.M. Johnson was his Presiding Elder. In his autobiography Rev. Gravis described crossing the Bosque River after a big rain:
On arriving at Stephenville a heavy rain had fallen and the Bosque was out of its' banks, and between me and the town. What to do was the question, and there were no boats, nor bridges. I must either return home or wait for the flood to subside. As there was work to do in the society, I resolved to wait. So I unsaddled my noble horse and staked him on the grass, took off my saddlebags and with my book, laid down on my back, with my revolver by my side, and thus passed the day. About an hour by sun the water had run down considerably, and Brother James Johnson was standing on the opposite bank to assist me in crossing. I took my stake rope in my hand and threw my saddle bags over my shoulder, and rode into the stream. My steed swain like a cork, but when we reached the shore the water was not deep enough for him to pass a perpendicular bluff. He succeeded in getting his breast and fore feet over, but on attempting to reach bottom with his hind feet, fell back, and under we went. We were soon above the rolling waters, and I attempted to regain the other bank again. When we reached the shore, the current had carried us so far below the crossing that the same difficulty presented itself, and back under the water we went again. This time I left my horse and swam toward the shore, with the rope in my hand. My horse swam after me and was about to swim over me, when I spied a log which had lodged with one end on the bank and the other end against a tree, about the middle of the stream I reached the rope which had caught in my spurs. My horse passed on down the stream as far as the rope would let him go. There I was, with the rope around my spurs, my horse at the other end, the current pressing me against the tree, with my horse struggling to free himself thus adding to the force of the current, holding me fast in ten feet of water. I had on my revolver, my saddlebags, and two spurs tangled in the rope. I never lost my presence of mind; holding on with one hand, I reached down with the other and disengaged my feet, my horse swimming ashore on the side we entered, and I followed. (Gravis, Twenty-five Years on the Outside Row, p.41-42)
When the Baptist Church disbanded Ellen Lane persuaded the deacons to donate the church building to the cemetery and community to be used as a community center. Every month there was a covered dish supper in the community center. This building burned. The community held many fundraisers and got enough money to buy the building that is there now from a little community near Lipan. " In 1960 the Oak Dale Quilters held their first meeting. The group met once a week and were able to make two quilts a day. The quilts were sold for ten to twenty dollars each. One of the groups most impressive quilts was made for the 1985 Lord's Acre program. The quilt was a tribute to the states 150th anniversary and was designed by Mrs. Pat Belew and Mrs. Pam Carpenter. The quilt consisted of 42 seven-by-six inch blocks. Among these were nine red blocks and nine blue blocks. Each of the red and blue blocks depicted some aspect of early life in Texas".(Stephenville Empire Tribune, July 2, 1989)
Since the improvement of transportation many people that live in Oak Dale work in town rather than farm exclusively. But there will always be people to live in Oak Dale and keep the community going. Oak Dale was, is, and will always be the land of lovely oaks and grassy dale.