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Wood County History

By LOU MALLORY — Chairperson, Wood County Historical Commission


The Thomas Breen Family   9-17-05


In 1864, Jay Gould started his project of taking his railroad, The Texas & Pacific, across the continent.


A young Irish immigrant from Tipperary, Thomas Breen, pulled up stakes in Jefferson, Texas, and joined the road gang as assistant paymaster. He worked the line on pay day with a flatbed wagon drawn by a pair of mules.


The Mineola area was a heavily timbered region frequently flooded in some places where the Sabine River overflowed. There were no roads or bridges. One early settler said, “You either had to swim or ford your way out of the place.” Although there is no documented evidence, the rugged terrain and isolation prompted some early settlers to name the place Sodom.


The situation changed in 1873 when the Texas & Pacific and International Railways were built through part of the county. When it became apparent that the two lines would meet at a particular point, which happened to by Sodom, the heads of both companies agreed that the first railway to reach the site would win crossing rights and would own the terminal property.


The workmen were in sight of each other as they neared the finish line. It was the 23rd of May, 1873. When the railroad lines reached Mineola on May 23rd, Thomas Breen made a decision to stay in Mineola and make it his home. He became the first ticket agent in Mineola for MoPac.


In Mineola, he met Lucy Wilson, an Irish lass just arrived from Dublin. Lucy Wilson Breen is shown in the 1900 census as having been born in 1856. She immigrated to the United States in 1867. Additionally, in the same census, Lucy and Thomas Breen are shown to have been married 22 years, placing their marriage at about 1878.


Their wedding gave Mineola its first Roman Catholic family. Their home became a mecca for Catholic priests when they were in the area. Catholic missionaries would stop and perform baptisms and marriages. The Breen home was a meeting place for Catholic families in the area and served as a place for the celebration of Mass.


Breen first served as postmaster in Mineola from 1882 to 1886. He served again from 1889 to 1893, then was reappointed once more, serving from 1897 to 1907. Breen died December 20, 1906 and his daughter, Lucy Breen, was appointed postmaster on February 13th, 1907. She served until 1915. Subsequently, she was named acting postmaster on September 16th, 1921, named postmaster on November 18th, 1921 then was reappointed on January 13th, 1926. She served until 1934.


Members of the Breen family served Mineola as postmaster for a total of nearly 39 years.


Another Breen daughter, Celestine, never married and lived with her family in their Victorian style two story home on N. Pacific Street (Highway 37). She worked as a clerk at the post office for many years.


During the 1880s, Thomas Breen owned and operated Breen’s Hardware Store and the post office was located near the rear of the hardware store. Breen served as postmaster in the first of his three appointments from 1882 to 1886.


Thomas and Lucy Breen were the parents of 12 children who grew up in Mineola.


The family was very active in the Catholic Church and Catholic continued to serve as the meeting place for Catholics until about 1915, when they were finally able to buy their own church building.


Breen was very active in community affairs, and beginning in 1895, when he was elected East Ward Alderman, he served in many capacities. In 1896, Breen resigned as alderman because the city was considering the purchase of his warehouse, then renovating it to use as a city hall.


The property was purchased by the city. Today, on the lot that was Breen’s warehouse property, stand the East Texas Burger Company and the building next to it which for many years was Sharp’s Hardware, on Broad Street in the middle of downtown Mineola.


In 1915, J.J. (John) Breen, one of the sons of Thomas and Lucy Breen, was named city commissioner to replace C.E. Vance.


Breen and John Gillis established one of the very early local industries, Mineola Canning Company. The firm thrived for a number of years before, as historians say, it just faded away.


Three of the Breen sons served their country during World War I: John J. Breen, Raymond T. Breen, and Michael T. Breen.


There is a old local story about Thomas Breen. He was sitting at his desk one day writing. A stranger came up and said, “Mr. Breen, your boys are throwing rocks at me.” Breen, without looking up, asked, “Did they hitchyah?” The stranger said, “No, but they was a chunking at me.” Breen answered, “If they didn’t hitchyah, they weren’t my boys.”


The Breen home was one of the local landmarks, and, as typical of the period, it was enclosed by a wrought iron fence.


About 1980, when all the family had either died or left the area, the family gave the home to the city of Mineola and indicated their desire that it be used as a museum. However, the city, as was typical of small towns built near the interstate highway, was in need of funds. The city was approached by the Seven Eleven Corporation which indicated it wanted the location for a drive-in grocery. The city decided to accept the offer and had the house torn down.


Many local citizens bought portions of the old home and these can be found in a number of local residences.


Most of the Breen family is buried at the Mineola City Cemetery south of downtown. In researching this history, the writer went to the Cemetery and also to the local funeral home because no marker or headstone could be found for Lucy, the mother, and Lucy, the daughter.   The following information regarding the dates of birth and death of other family members was found at the Cemetery.


Thomas Breen was born in March, 1853 and died in Mineola on December 30th, 1906. Tom Breen’s grave has a beautiful, tall ornate Woodmen of the World monument. To the side of his monument is another beautiful monument with a cross on top and lambs and flowers inscribed around the base where two of the infant children were buried. They were Harry W. Breen born in 1880 and died in 1882; and Mary W. Breen, a daughter, born in 1883 and died in 1883. Six other Breen children are also buried there. To date, we have been unable to find names and birth and death information on the remaining four children. The children who are buried at Mineola City Cemetery are Celestine Breen, born 1896, died 1968; Elmer Breen, born 1884, died 1971; Mark W. Breen, born 1886, died 1967; John J. Breen, born 1890, died 1940; Raymond T. Breen, born 1894, died 1962; and Michael Breen, born 1895, died 1966.


Also, the book “Cemeteries of Wood County, Texas” does show the date of death of Lucy Breen, the daughter, and her age. Lucy by their calculations was born December 31, 1881 and died on October 18th, 1962.


A Texas Historical Marker for the family was dedicated in Mineola in May, 2005 at the former site of the Breen family home.




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