As a student of history, I’m curious about and appreciative of a community’s origins – about the internal and external forces that shaped its past and continue to influence its present. For Mineola, history’s great outside force was the railroads (the Texas and Pacific and the International-Great Northern), which were largely responsible for bringing the town into existence in the 1870s.
The city’s name appears to derive from one of two competing historical narratives: Some say the town was named by a railroad official, Ira H. Evans, who combined the name of his daughter Ola with that of her friend, Minnie. Others posit that the same railroad man named the city after his hometown of Mineola, N.Y. The name Mineola is a shortened and altered form of Miniolagamika, an Algonquin Indian chief’s name that means “pleasant village.”
But outside factors alone do not mold the character of a place. Much of that work goes to its inhabitants, and Mineola has its share of fascinating ones. I was surprised to learn about some of the highly accomplished people who came from different walks of life but who once walked these same streets. People like Willie Brown, a former Speaker of the California Assembly and San Francisco’s first African-American mayor. Then there’s Jim Hogg, whose storied political career includes being the first native-born Texas governor. Hogg once lived in Mineola, founded the Quitman News and fathered a daughter named Ima, who was much admired in her own right for her philanthropy. She also founded the Houston Symphony.
Noble Willingham Jr., who played a supporting role in the hit television show Walker, Texas Ranger, was a Mineola native. Adam Moore, a catcher for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, played his high school ball in Mineola, where he batted .517 and belted a school record 18 homeruns. Famous Texas Ranger Bill McDonald once ran a grocery store in Mineola. He served as a bodyguard briefly for President Theodore Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson.
Then there’s Jack Rhodes, who ran the Trail 80 Motor Courts restaurant and gas station in Mineola. Rhodes was an acclaimed country music producer and songwriter. He wrote such hits as A Satisfied Mind, and Golden Threads and Silver Needles. Rhodes was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2009.
Mineola’s own Kacey Musgraves, a multiple award-winning county singer and songwriter, has released several critically acclaimed albums during her remarkable music career.
Other Mineola luminaries include cellist Henry Bogan, acclaimed jazz pianist James Tatum, actor Michael Greer, composer and percussionist Lane Harder, gospel singer Nancy Lindley Murphy and Joe Dodson, a stuntman and national blacksmithing champion.
The journeys of these notable people took them to fame and stardom, and somewhere along the way their paths led through Mineola. Through the decades, thousands of others, too, have led quiet but accomplished lives in this “pleasant village” along the railroad.