Coming home from a trip to McKinney early last week with my husband and son, we noticed an old rusty water tower on the east side of U.S. Highway 75 in Collin County just before we got to Van Alstyne that for an unknown reason I had not remembered seeing before. In just a few seconds, we saw a road marker “Mantua Road.”
We had a brief conversation about what Mantua meant and someone said it was a ghost town that no longer existed. I could hardly wait to get home and look it up on the web. I know that’s a few miles south of Grayson County, but I’m sure it had an early connection with our neck of the woods. I learned that the little community had been awarded a Texas Historical Marker and I found a picture of it.
The marker’s text tells the story of Mantua, its original building, the Masonic Lodge, still existed in Van Alstyne when the marker was awarded in 2011. According to Texas Historical Markers on Waymarkers.com, the Masonic Lodge itself is noted by a Texas Historical Marker. This is another of the many Texas Towns that popped up, then dried up and went elsewhere as the railroad made its presence known.
I can best relate the history of Mantua by quoting the wording on the Historical Marker.
“On February 23, 1854, William C. McKinney, James W. Throckmorton, John A. Throckmorton and Joseph Wilcox set aside twenty-five acres for the town of Mantua, which was conceived as a site for the Mantua Seminary. Proceeds from the sale of the town lots provided funds for the school. The town plat consisted of forty-eight city blocks surrounding a town square. To help ensure a proper environment for the school, deeds for town lots prohibited gambling, horse racing, prostitution and the sale of alcohol.
“Mantua Lodge No. 209 A.F. & A.M. organized in 1857, and the Masons first met on the second story of the Walcott’s Store. A post office was established there in 1858, and E.B. Rollins was appointed as the first postmaster. On October 21, 1858, McKinney, James W. Throckmorton and Wilcox met with Mantua citizens to establish rules for the co-educational Mantua Seminary, and a building was constructed just outside of town for the use of the Seminary and the Masonic Lodge. Classes were first held in 1860 and by 1868, eighty pupils were enrolled. Liberty Christian Church was established in 1846 and a Methodist congregation was formed the next year.
“In 1872 the Houston and Texas Central Railroad laid tracks approximately 1.5 miles east of Mantua, and the new town of Van Alstyne was formed along the tracks. Almost immediately, the residents and businesses of Mantua relocated to the new town. Mantua’s post office was closed in 1873. The Mantua Seminary last held classes during the early 1880s and the churches relocated to neighboring towns. Today, only Mantua Cemetery and Mantua Road remain as symbols of the vanished community.”
The three gentlemen mentioned above purchased the 200 acres of land from Younger Scott McKinney, a son of Collin McKinney. While the lots were sold and part of the profits was set aside to finance the school, the seminary did not offer classes until 1850 because there was not enough money from the sale to build a school building and because of the outbreak of the Civil War. Classes originally were held on the first floor of the Mantua Masonic Lodge building. In 1865, a two-story, 16 room building was built. By 1870, the population of the town had grown from 50 residents to 300.
The seminary operated successfully for the first 10 years after the war. Classes were mostly high school level and were taught by faculty that at one time reached eight. Four years later, the exodus of residents and businesses began. The seminary, however, offered classes in the nearly deserted Mantua until the early 1880s when the school closed.
There is a Mantua Cemetery at the intersection south of Hurricane Creek, but no one remembers how many graves it contains or the names of those buried there. The cemetery is listed on the county survey maps as covering two acres.
One map calls this the Newt Taylor Family Cemetery, showing it west of where the Mantua School and north of where the Mantua Christian Church once stood. Newt Taylor, according to “Cemeteries of Collin County, Texas” by Joy Gough was an early member of the Liberty Church, Christian Church in Mantua. Said to be buried there are Mary Taylor, 4 months old; Pauline Taylor, 8 years old; and Nancy S. McKinney, who was said to be buried in her wedding dress after dying the night before her wedding. Known to be buried in the Mantua Cemetery is David Shanks, who died in August 1883.
Donna Hunt is a former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions.