Bostonian Confusion and I Don’t Mean Massachusetts

I remained vague when I discussed Boston — the Boston in Texas — in Named Like a Whole Other Country. I kept it to "the man who opened the first store in the area was W. J. Boston." Otherwise I might have tipped my hand that I’d discovered three Texas Bostons all within about four miles of each other in Bowie County. To wit,

  • Boston was always Boston, and it’s newer than New Boston, although it’s now part of New Boston. Probably.
  • Old Boston was the original Boston.
  • New Boston was named for Old Boston back when Old Boston was still Boston.
  • They’re all New Boston for postal purposes (Zip Code 75570) so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Got all that? It confused me too. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System or GNIS provided precise locations for each location and the Handbook of Texas Online provided context and history.

(A) = Old Boston, (B) = New Boston, (C) = Boston

Notice the tight clustering of the Boston trio. This proximity would tend to justify a single town with a single name just about anywhere else. Maybe that would have happened here too except for several extenuating events. I took all three town histories from the Handbook, sorted through their intricacies and developed a timeline.

1830’s: Early settlers founded Boston and named it for the guy I mentioned earlier.

1841: Boston became the initial government seat for newly-founded Bowie County. That was while Texas was still an independent nation, the Republic of Texas.

1846: Boston gained a post office. Yes, it’s important to the story.

Some of the Railroad has been Decommissioned

1876: The new Texas and Pacific Railway laid track through Bowie County, and it skipped Boston. Residents feared Boston’s stagnation, a sad situation for many towns bypassed by railroads, so residents met with railroad officials to see what could be done about it. They agreed upon a station at the closest place possible along the line, about four miles north of Boston. Many Bostonians packed-up and platted a town around the new station, calling it New Boston because they lacked originality.

Mid 1880’s: The Bowie county seat moved from Boston to Texarkana which had become the largest town in the county by that time. Even so, Texarkana sat at the far eastern edge of Bowie County which inconvenienced just about everyone else. The county seat moved again about five year later, this time to the exact geographic center of Bowie. It corresponded to a spot about a mile south of New Boston.

1890: Bowie County started building a new courthouse at its nameless, centralized spot. The location lacked a post office and it needed to have one because of a quirk in the law that required a post office at every county seat. The Boston post office would move to the nameless spot — no issue there — although what should they call it? The Postal Service rejected several alternatives because they were already taken, otherwise Center, Hood or Glass would have sufficed. With preferred options unavailable, the county transferred the Boston name along with the Boston post office. Thus Boston became the county seat and the original Boston became Old Boston. Meanwhile, New Boston was still New Boston.

That’s the way things remained geographically and administratively for the next century even though the economics changed. New Boston, with its proximity to a railroad and later an interstate highway, expanded in size and influence.

1986: Bowie County built a modern courthouse in New Boston, on the edge of town near Interstate 30 and a Wal-Mart (map). The courthouse moved although Boston remained the legal county seat.

The Old Courthouse is Gone. Only the Abandoned Jail Remains

1987: An arsonist burned the old courthouse building in Boston, completely gutting it.

The story had an interesting postscript. An article in the Chicago Tribune reported on a suspicious situation in 1988.

The torching of one of Texas’ oldest courthouses has sparked a controversy nearly as hot as the flames that gutted the structure a year ago. At issue is whether to raze or restore the 99-year-old Bowie County Courthouse, one of the 10 oldest in Texas. An equally popular topic of discussion at local coffee shops is the timing of the fire, which was quickly ruled arson; it occurred two weeks after county officials increased insurance coverage on the building, at a time when the county budget was in the red. Another vexing question is whether the location of the new courthouse is legal.

The legal situation focused on whether the courthouse should have been allowed to move to its new location. By that time New Boston had annexed all of Boston except for the single block with the old courthouse. Apparently the move violated a Texas law about locating a courthouse too far away from the center of a county without adequate voter approval, or so it was alleged. Then there were the mysterious circumstances surrounding the arson. I couldn’t find out what happened after that time although eventually New Boston annexed the remaining vestige of Boston even though it continued to serve as the official Bowie County seat. That would make Boston a neighborhood of New Boston, and seemingly legitimize the new courthouse location.

Completely Unrelated

I learned about an interesting tool from Twitter user @OsmQcCapNat as a result of the recent 12MC article on Trap Streets. The tool, Map Compare, displays the same location on several online maps simultaneously. That would have made my side-by-side comparison of OSM, Google Maps and Bing Maps so much easier. I’ll file that one away for future use.

One Reply to “Bostonian Confusion and I Don’t Mean Massachusetts”

  1. Also….. Topomapper’s dual-view (

    Split-screen/zooms to compare a dozen or so maps .. side-by-side.
    Bing (sat. & street) Google (street, terrain & sat. hybrid) Yahoo (sat. & street) plus: Mapnik, Topo, Open Street..

    Personal favorite.. esp. for USA/CAN topographical maps is AcmeMapper (newly updated to v2.1)

    brian o’brien
    san francisco, ca

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