History of Irene Texas
as written by Ray McKleskey in 1977
The following story was presented by a retired methodist preacher at the Salem Cemetery gathering in 1996. This story is his own personal recollection of life in Irene in the 1920s'.
Irene, Texas in 1920, was a typical Cotton Kingdom town, About 300 to 400 people, white, with a few Negroes across the track. There was a good two storied brick schoolhouse; large play area, outside johns, sheds for the horses ridden to school. The boys and girls basketball teams went all over and were often champs. Some of the teachers are remembered, Mr. Cluck, Mr. Dinkins, Mr. Brogdon, Mr. Willis and Miss Breedlove.
The town was typical - IGN RR ran two passenger trains daily, lots of freights. We kids would walk to Malone 6 miles south on Sunday afternoon and pay .15 to ride the train back to Irene. Batton Bros (Walter & Brown) had a café and domino parlor. Their father Pa Batton was a fixture. Domino players were Arch Winn, John Armstrong, and Tom Biggers. TX Stelle had a drug store. The Bank was in charge of Mr. Christie and Vivian Reed. Mr. Hamlett had a dry goods store so did Mr. Lewis. Mr. Lewis who was blind had an icehouse; Tom Kay had the telephone office.
Pete Spears had a grocery store; CP Langford had a livery stable. Spener-Chumney had a grocery. There were three cotton Gins and a large cotton warehouse. There was a lumberyard and a black smith shop. Mr. Bob Mason had a very nice park with deer.
There were three churches, Methodist, Baptist and Christian. We Methodist called the Christians "Campbell Lights" and my Aunt Bertha Adams said it was better to be a Campbell light than no light at all. Each church had a summer revival in the tabernacle. Kids would sleep on quilts about the yard.
Young men hung out at the McNeil tailor shop where Jim Shipp would shine your shoes for a dime. Ludie McNeil would clean and press your cloths and order suits "tailor made" - Theo York had a barber shop where you could get a mud massage or a hot bath - the bath was .25 and was sheer luxury. There was a picture show with Pearl White and the serials were well attended.
We had fire works at Christmas rather than July 4. The boys of the town would often have "Roman Candle Fights" and some suffered bad burns. The town had two baseball teams - one white and one black - one black would be a big leaguer today Old Bully Johnson was his name. And there was a black man called Preacher that was much loved by all the people. Carlisle Littlejohn was a white player that went on to the big leagues (St Louis Cardinals).
There were no gravel or hard surface road and mud was a problem. The town had a good Artesian well which was a good water supply.
The railroads laid out the towns in that area in the beginning and they set up a town every six miles. We at Irene were sure we were a little better than the others, which is doubtful at this late date. Our mortal foes were Mertens, Brandon and Malone. I can well remember being afraid of the big German Luteran Church near Malone. When the war of 1918 was on we gave the German commnity near Irene a bad time. Some of them had come directly from Germany and had family ties in the old country and they were pro-German, but not all. Many were indeed most loyal and faithful.
Irene, Texas, is gone. Nothing remains but a few scattered houses and most of them in bad repair. There is no business of anykind. The school building is gone - the same Methodist Church remains. Irene is gone and with it there went a way of life that is not to return. I go there haunted by pleasant memories. I seem to hear the laughter and the roar of the train, the sense of belonging. Thomas Wolf says you can't go home again and you can't, but there is a true sense in which to have been at all is to always be - Frankl taught us that - and all he taught us was that "what you have had can never be taken from you." Irene gave several generations their compass and one some how feels that there has gone out from her a life that has not perished but lives renewed where there is hope and faith and love - Good Night, Irene!
Ray McCleskey, 1977
Note: I am publishing this without Rev. McCleskey's permission, but I think the reason he wrote it was so we wouln't forget Irene. I don't think he would mind this being shared with others.