AS TIME GOES BY
Wood County History
By LOU MALLORY —
Chairperson, Wood County Historical Commission
The Thomas Breen
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Thomas Breen was
born in March, 1853 and died in Mineola on
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,
A Texas Historical
Marker for the family was dedicated in Mineola
in May, 2005 at the former site of the Breen