Springfield Cemetery is located in Limestone County within Fort Parker State Park, which is located about 4.5 miles north of Groesbeck on Highway 14. The cemetery is located about 0.5 mile from the park entrance on Park Road 28. It is the only visible reminder of the town of Springfield, the first county seat of Limestone County.
Springfield became a townsite on January 6, 1838, when Moses Herrin donated 500 acres from his league grant for the “use and benefits of a town to be located at the large spring on the banks of the Navasota River. By the spring of 1838, twelve families had settled in the area, but were forced to leave during the summer months because of Indian hostilities in the area. By 1844 the town was again inhabited by immigrants from Illinois and the South. When Limestone County was formed in 1846, Springfield was made the county seat since it was the only town of any size. A post office was established that same year, and a city government was organized in 1848 by a legislative act incorporating the town. By 1850 the town was growing rapidly and continued to grow through the start of the Civil War.
Because the town was bypassed by the railroad and because of racially-motivated violence following the Civil War, many of the town’s white citizens abandoned the town in favor of Groesbeck or Mexia. As a result, the population diminished rapidly in the early 1870s. In 1873 Groesbeck became the county seat following the second burning of the courthouse at Springfield. At the end of the Civil War, several hundred slaves in the area were freed, many of whom stayed in the area. After nearly all the white citizens had left the town, Springfield became a semi-rural but thriving African-American community during the Reconstruction period.
In 1833 brothers Andres and Pedro Varela petitioned the Mexican government for adjoining eleven-league grants straddling the Navasota River. Although they agreed to settle and cultivate the land in accordance to the Law of 1825, there is no evidence that they ever did. A few years later, Moses Herrin traveled with his family from Kentucky to Texas to claim a league of land. He was admitted as a colonist contracted by David Burnett in December 1826 and claimed one league of land on the east side of the Navasota River (part of Andres Varela grant). Although Herrin’s land adjoined that of the Parker settlers, his family was not listed among those known to be in the area during the time of the attack on Fort Parker. In fact, there is no record of Herrin either visiting or occupying the tract. He may have learned that his was an invalid junior survey filed subsequent to the Varela grants. He may have been given another piece of land in compensation for the error, possibly in Panola County where his widow was living in 1852.
Moses Herrin’s lasting influence on the area was his charge to build the town of Springfield around the “large spring” on the east side of the Navasota River. On January 6, 1838, Herrin signed an instrument declaring his offer of four free town lots and a ten-acre out lot to those who settled on and improved the land for one year. He assigned Elisha Anglin and George Calmes, two of Limestone County’s earliest settlers, to lay out the town. However, continued Indian hostilities kept permanent settlers out of the area for several years.
The settlement of the Springfield area began in earnest following the arrival of Logan A. Stroud. Shortly after his birth in Morgan County, Georgia on October 10, 1814 his family moved to Alabama and in 1837 to Robertson County, Texas where 640 acres of land was located. On May 19, 1842, Logan Stroud married Jane Elizabeth Harlan and because of unhealthy conditions in the Brazos River bottoms, moved to Burr Oak Springs in Limestone County just across the river from what would later become the Confederate Reunion Grounds. After a few years, the Stroud family moved to a place just north of Old Fort Parker. There they lived for a few years before moving to a timbered area northwest of the fort on the old Springfield-Waco Road. Logan Stroud was the largest slave owner in Limestone County, having 157 slaves just prior to emancipation. Jane Stroud died on February 1, 1905 and Logan Stroud died on February 5, 1911. They are both buried in the Springfield Cemetery in a family plot with four of their children and a hired hand, Burr Coulson.
By 1844 there were 13 families living in Limestone County. Of these original families, George W. Cox, Seth Bates, Anderson Phifer, and Bradley Phifer were among the first property owners in Springfield. Moses Anglin lived just east of Springfield and Tilman and Agnes Wolverton settled on Plummers Creek near Springfield. Mr. Wolverton ran the first stage coach line carrying mail and passengers from Springfield to Washington on the Brazos.
Within two years of its first permanent settler, Springfield became the commercial, social and political center of the surrounding territory. On April 11, 1846, Limestone County was created by the state legislature, and on April 18 Springfield was designated as the county seat. Following these events, the town began to grow rapidly. In 1847 the citizens of Springfield constructed what most believed to be the first courthouse. This structure was constructed on the east bank of the river and was about thirty feet long and twenty feet wide. (Some believed that a earlier log structure built near the river served as the first courthouse.)
By 1848, Springfield had approximately 120 inhabitants. Organization of a city government began March 1, 1848 by a legislative act incorporating the town, probably for school purposes since a school was soon started in the courthouse. The city government of Springfield consisted of a mayor and six aldermen, a collector or constable, a treasurer, and a secretary, each holding office for one year.
An 1849 deed between a New Orleans partnership and two Springfield residents acknowledged Moses Herrin’s townsite provisions but verified ownership through the original grantee, Andreas Varela. Through a reciprocal deed transfer on October 27, 1849, partners Charles A. Jacobs and William Christy claimed legal ownership of the land, conveyed 83 town lots and 22 out lots to certain Springfield citizens. Although Herrin had no legal claim to the land, Jacobs and Christy upheld Herrin’s provisions for a town in the deed by granting the lots to those who adhered to them but claimed ownership of all remaining town lots and out lots including a mill tract near the big spring on the east bank of the river. (Their claim to the mill tract was declared invalid in 1951.) They probably reasoned that if they honored Herrin’s stipulations and if the town became successful, the existing improvements, including the courthouse, would enhance the value of their remaining lots. Leading merchant J. R. Henry and Texas War veteran J. P. Lynch acted as agents for the town and ordered a survey and map of Springfield to accompany the transaction. A copy of this map dated November 29, 1849 depicts the lots and blocks around the public square and the spring. It also shows roads and out lots including the cemetery tract identified by a later map. Although two maps are available from this period, neither is drawn to scale and both appear to have inaccuracies. The 1849 map is a copy drawn from memory of a copy made in 1945. The 1850 map is a copy of an original map which was destroyed by fire when the courthouse burned in 1873.
By 1850 Springfield was a thriving town with five general mercantile stores, two taverns, two groceries, two blacksmiths, two tailors, a carpenter, gunsmith, a hotel, a wagon maker, a teacher, four physicians, three Methodist preachers, a surveyor, and three lawyers. A Baptist preacher who traveled to Springfield was George W. Baines, later a president of Baylor University and great-grandfather of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Townsend Bennett arrived in town in 1849 and purchased land north of the town where he constructed a race track. By 1852 there was a Masonic Hall, and during the early 1850s, J. L. Caldwell and W. L. Moody began publishing a weekly newspaper called the Texas Pioneer. The newspaper ceased publication in 1860 when Caldwell moved to Fairfield. In 1856 the residents constructed a larger schoolhouse to replace two earlier log structures built in 1844 and 1847. In 1857 the county constructed the first brick courthouse in Springfield’s public square. A flood on the river may have encouraged people to move away from the river.
By 1860 Springfield’s occupations became more sophisticated. They included a druggist, doctor, a hotel keeper, a master mason, a tax collector, a professor of languages, teacher of music, and several stock raisers. Thomas A. Turner, a master saddler and former postmaster, made recordings of climatic conditions for the Smithsonian Institute. The town was also home to Springfield College by 1860.
Several Springfield-area landowners held large numbers of slaves. Logan A. Stroud listed a total of 157 slaves in the 1860 census. While many of Limestone County African Americans can trace their lineage to Stroud’s slaves, other Springfield citizens owned nine or more slaves, including D. M. Prendergast, J. R. Henry, T. Wolverton, and Abram Anglin.
More than three-quarters of Limestone County’s voting population served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Springfield residents D. M. Prendergast and B. R. Tyus both raised companies to serve in the Confederate army. With the exception of the Strouds, the war eventually claimed every able-bodied man from the Springfield area. Businesses ceased operations and the college closed permanently in 1863.
Although many soldiers survived and returned to Springfield after the war, the Reconstruction period permanently affected the town’s hopes for recovery. Emancipation left families like the Strouds without the labor force needed to run large farming operations, so they lost much of their property during this period. Another challenge for Limestone County citizens dealt with the new status of African Americans and their relationship to the people who had once held them as slaves. Former Confederates were stripped of their powers and privileges including the rights to vote and bear arms, while their former slaves bought property and assumed political and social roles once reserved exclusively for whites.
A freedman named Ralph Pendergast, later known as Ralph Long, was one of the first former slaves to purchase land in Limestone County in 1866. He quickly rose to prominence as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869. Although he was not later elected to represent Limestone County in the Texas House or Senate, Long was the recognized boss of the Republican Party during Reconstruction. While a delegate to the Convention, he served on the committee for education and was later responsible for establishing a school for black children that operated in Springfield until the mid 1940s. It was named after his wife Kate Long. As early as 1866, Long began buying tracts of land in and around the town of Springfield until he owned virtually all of the original townsite.
After the Civil War the majority of whites in Limestone County strongly opposed congressional Reconstruction. Many race-related murders also took place in the county during the 1870s. In 1871 a man reportedly made public denouncements of the State Police and the local Republican officials. When officers attempted to arrest him, a riot broke out between the mob protecting him and the police. The situation became so strained that the governor declared the county under martial law on October 9, 1871. A reign of terror began around Springfield with the appearance of a man named Dixie who without restraint proceeded to murder African-Americans whenever and wherever he caught them. Many African-American families were so terrorized that they slept in the woods at night. Those who had the courage to remain in their cabins made sure that no lights were burning and that all doors were securely barred and bolted. So bad were these times that guards had to be placed around the towns at night. Unfortunately, one recorded incident involved a group of men who rode past the guards at Springfield, took the sheriff’s keys and released 15 African-American prisoners from the jail. After releasing them, however, the group killed every prisoner. Secret organizations were also organized and became very active throughout the county during this time. An accurate and detailed record of the Reconstruction period is not available today because most of the county records were destroyed in a fire that destroyed the courthouse and because many of those who lived in the area during this time refused to speak afterwards about the horrific events that took place. It has been surmised by Ray Walter, Limestone County historian, that “literally hundreds of Negroes were murdered.”
Although the racially-motivated killings and terrorism of Reconstruction contributed greatly to Springfield’s demise, it was the lack of a railroad that is credited to the town’s eventual decline and failure. In the early 1860s, the Houston and Texas Central Railroad made tentative plans to build a railroad line through the county. Many of the property owners donated land for the right-of-way. In Springfield, however, many of the property owners were convinced by leading citizens to take back their offers and to inform the railroad that it would have to purchase the land. The railroad officials asked the property owners to set fair and equitable prices for the land, but most property owners asked for extremely high amounts. Frustrated, the railroad company secured a right-of-way three miles east of Springfield. The town could not compete commercially with towns along the railroad, and within five years of the completion of the railroad, many white families, businesses, and institutions moved to the newly created towns on its route. The destruction of the county courthouse in 1873 was the final blow to the town. Earlier in that year the brick courthouse which had been condemned was destroyed by fire. Records saved from the fire were moved to a commercial building owned by Benjamin Tyus, but five months later, that building burned to the ground and all records were destroyed. Arson was suspected in both fires. The county seat was soon moved to Groesbeck. As Springfield’s white residents moved to Groesbeck and Mexia, people carried away the wooden buildings plank by plank so that there were few physical remains of the town. A number of Freedmen remained in the Springfield area, however, and the former county seat became one of the leading African-America communities in the county.
Springfield Cemetery is the only remaining evidence of the town of Springfield. It was originally planned as part of the original townsite because it is clearly outlined and marked “Gr. Yard” on a copy of the original plat of Springfield drawn by J. B. Franklin in the late 1840s or early 1850s. A second plat map, copied from one commissioned by early town developers J. R. Henry and J. P. Lynch in 1849, depicts the same cemetery boundaries, comprising 10 acres. The current configuration deviates somewhat from the rectangular shape depicted by the two maps, but the cemetery’s position relative to the Navasota River and the spring agree with the maps.
The earliest known grave is that of Nathaniel H. Lynch, a baby who died on October 3, 1849. He was the son of Joseph P. and Mary Lynch and was 8 months and two days old when he died. Both whites and blacks are buried in the cemetery with the black graves separated from the white graves by a buffer zone of undisturbed land in between. The graves of whites span the time period from 1849 to the 1940s, with the greatest majority dating from the 1860s. The earliest known black grave is that of Lula Smith who died in 1890. It seems the cemetery was originally used for white burials, but local black families later created an addition to the cemetery long after most of the white residents had deserted the town.
Some of Springfield’s earliest residents are buried in the white section of the cemetery, including Logan Stroud, his wife Jane, and several of their children. Veterans of the War for Texas Independence and two of Springfield’s earliest residents, J. P. Lynch and Sanders Walker, are also buried in the cemetery. Significant black residents buried in the later section include Ezekial Rhodes, Sr. and Ben Curry, school board trustees of the Kate Long School. Rhodes also served an extended period as an assistant leader of the black CCC camp that cleared the Navasota River bottom for Lake Fort Parker and developed Fort Parker State Park.
Cultural features include tombstones made of marble, limestone, and concrete; crypts constructed of limestone rocks and bricks; two wrought iron fence enclosures; one concrete-edged family plot; and one tombstone with tile inlay. There is no ornamental vegetation, but there are many varieties of native trees and plants.
The State of Texas acquired the cemetery, along with most of the remaining 1,400 acre park property, in the mid-1930s. In 1967, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department closed Fort Parker State Park to the public and rehabilitated the cemetery by clearing brush and repairing tombstones. A new fence was also erected. From that time, the cemetery was closed to private burials but open to park visitors. A state historical marker was approved for the site and dedicated on October 5, 1969.