De Leon, Texas

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De Leon is a city located in Comanche County in the U.S. state of Texas. The population was 2,433 at the time of the 2000 census.

The town was laid out in April 1881 by surveying crews of the Texas Central Railway as it constructed a line from Ross just north of Waco to an undecided destination in Eastland County with the ultimate goal of extending the line to Colorado. The first city lots were auctioned on July 7, 1881 by Robert Morris Elgin, the Texas Central's Land Agent and for whom the town of Elgin, Texas had been named.

Initially incorporated by an election held on August 30, 1890, the town government appears to have dwindled over the years and the community was reincorporated in an election held August 29, 1899. The first mayor elected under the new incorporation was former Comanche County Judge John Lambert who took office in April 1900.

The population of De Leon remained under 1,000 until 1910 when a branch line of the Texas Central, then leased by the MKT, was extended from De Leon to Rising Star and Cross Plains. De Leon then became the center point for the Texas Central between Waco and Albany, thereby relocating numerous railroad crew members and their families to the city. The census early that year showed 1,015 citizens.

On Labor Day night 1918, oil was discovered north of De Leon just inside the Comanche County line near Desdemona. During the next two years nearly a thousand wells were drilled in the area and the population of De Leon rose to an estimated 5,000 plus people. But the boom was short-lived, and by the time of the actual census taken in 1920, the population was only 3,302. Since World War II De Leon's population has stabilized at around 2,500.

Ranching dominated Comanche County until the coming of the Texas Central in 1881. Cotton soon became the primary crop as immigrants from the southern states and in particular the area around Oxford and Pontotoc, Mississippi came to the De Leon vicinity starting in 1890. When the boll weevil began to make inroads to the area after 1910, farmers just west of town began to plant the small Spanish peanut. That quickly became the dominate crop and in 1913, the De Leon Peanut Company was organized. Over time, De Leon and Comanche County became the leading peanut producing county in the U.S. Coupled with production around the neighboring community of Gorman in Eastland County most of the peanuts went into candy, particularly Curtis Candies' Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars. Nabisco eventually purchased the De Leon Peanut Company. In the last two decades peanut production has dropped dramatically.

De Leon boast one of the oldest festivals in Texas, the De Leon Peach and Melon Festival which had its beginnings in 1914. Celebrated during the first full week in August, it features a free melon slicing, dances, and the Melon Patch Bicycle Tour--"a peach of a ride"--that draws about a thousand riders that travel the backroads of the area. The current watermelon seed spitting distance record as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records of 78 feet 6 inches was set at the festival on August 12, 1995 by Jason Schaynot then of Georgetown, Texas. Schaynot is a descendant of two long time De Leon families.

Among De Leon's unique events is the only paid appearance by Elvis Presley in which he sang only gospel music. It occurred at Hodges Park on July 4, 1955 when he followed his friends, the Blackwood Brothers at the Battle of Songs show. The Blackwoods had lost family members in a plane crash in Alabama the previous year just prior to a scheduled appearance in De Leon and had remembered them in a performance immediately preceding Elvis' performance. Elvis followed with more gospel music. It was one of three appearances Elvis made that day for promoter W.B. Nowlin, then Mayor of De Leon. The other two were in Brownwood and Stephenville.

Included among De Leon's most distinguished citizens are former Texas Speaker of the House and later Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, a protege of John B. Connally and Lyndon B. Johnson, and the 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner William White, whose The Taft Story focuses upon Republican presidential contender Robert A. Taft. Winston Lee Moore, composer and singer of "Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes" was reared just north of De Leon. He is better known under his stage name of Slim Willet.

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