Cleburne, Texas, is one of those beautiful American cities that’s full of life, community spirit and everything in between. From wonderful shopping at family-owned stores to the popular PRCA Rodeo—the event of the year that happens every June— there’s always a reason to visit Cleburne.
But it’s the history that’s shaped this small Texas town into what it is today. Because when you come to explore Cleburne, you never know what you might discover. Some of the gems about the charming city include that it was once home to one of the first Coca-Cola bottling plants in the Southwest; it was an important part of the Chisholm Trail for cattle drivers; and it was a crucial outpost in the Civil War. No visit to Cleburne is complete without a look back at what made it the town it is today, including these 10 facts you probably didn’t know about this Texas town.
1. Cleburne is home to the first airplane built in Texas.
In what is considered the first airplane built in Texas, Slats Rodger and his airplane, Old Soggy No.1, made history back in 1912 when he took to the skies in Cleburne.
Rodger would make history again in 1926 as the first person in Texas to hold a pilot’s license, which also led to him becoming the first person in Texas’ history to also lose his pilot’s license. It’s said that his license was revoked because he accepted a dare to fly between two skyscrapers in downtown Dallas and not for bootlegging whiskey into Mexico, which is how the legend usually goes.
Rodger walked away from 27 crashes in his lifetime.
2. The city is named after a Confederate general in the Civil War.
In the 1800s Cleburne wasn’t known as Cleburne, Texas, it was Camp Henderson, Texas, a temporary outpost where soldiers would depart from for war.
General Patrick Cleburne—an Irishman who became an American soldier and also a successful and respected leader in the military—led troops from the Camp Henderson outpost into battles such as Battle of Stones River and the Battle of Ringgold Gap. His strategic ability to use the terrain to his favor earned him the nickname “Stonewall of the West” and eventually the camp was renamed in his honor in 1867, following his death in battle in 1864.
3. Wright Plaza is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built in 1893 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally built in 1893, the Wright building is now home to Wright Plaza and the Heroes Café, Joyful Soul Boutique, Southern Spirit boutique and many more locally-owned businesses.
The building was originally home to a meat market, a grocery, a lunchroom and a candy store and in 1899 A.J. Wright purchased the building, turning it into Wright Dry-Goods Company. Business was booming for Wright and in 1916 he purchased the adjacent building as well. Today, that building is home to the Plaza Theatre Company Main Street.
In 1924 he’d expand even further and build the Liberty Hotel directly across the street. The inside of the Liberty Hotel was rebuilt in 2004 and is still open today, making it one of the oldest hotels in town.
Local legend also goes that the Wright building is haunted, with locals walking the street reportedly seeing the apparition of a young woman staring down into the street from the second floor of the historic building. Visitors to the building have also experienced an unexplained aroma of perfume.
4. Cleburne was once home to a Coca-Cola bottling plant.
As Coca-Cola became a national phenomenon, Cleburne played a hand in getting the product distributed throughout the area.
The city had a Coca-Cola bottling plant in the 1920s and workers filled bottles by hand at a rate of only 20 bottles a minute. The plant was bottling and delivering cases of the popular cola around town, and by 1938 there were 58 grocery stores and 49 service stations serving the soda.
While the first bottling agreement was made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and shipped by boxcar, production eventually moved to Corsicana and Waco and “Cleburne” was printed on the bottom of each bottle.
By 1960, the Cleburne plant had 15 employees, and this would also be the same year 12-ounce aluminum cans arrived.
Bottling eventually stopped in Cleburne, but the city played a crucial role in the early days of growing the Coca-Cola brand.
5. Cleburne is home to the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum, one of the most written about Southwestern trails in the United States.
After the Civil War, South Texas ranchers drove vast herds of cattle to northern markets on the Chisholm Trail. An essential part of the trail ran through the Brazos River crossing in Cleburne State Park, which was a popular campsite for drovers.
Today, the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum features tepees and life-size cattle silhouettes, a stage station and saloon representing the stage line that ran out of Cleburne and 17 saloons from the heyday of the Chisholm Trail cattle drives. The museum also has a replica sheriff's office and jail.
The museum continues to add new additions depicting life on the trail and in this area at that time, including a restored version of the Nolan River School, the school in this area from 1855 to 1872. Today, students and teachers can visit the school and step back in time and get a glimpse into what life was like in the mid-1800s.
6. Cleburne’s natural resources have attracted some of the biggest businesses in the world.
Thanks to an abundance of natural resources, including the silica sands that the Covia Company mines for the John Manville company—a company that manufactures insulation, roofing materials, and engineered products and is owned by Warren Buffett—big businesses are fond of Cleburne.
And it’s not just Covia and John Manville that have a presence here. James Hardie also has a plant in Cleburne, the largest of its southern facilities. The plant produces interior and exterior products for the entire Southwest region of the United States.
7. The largest catfish ever caught in Lake Pat Cleburne was never registered because the fisherman released it back into the lake.
The 4.5-foot blue catfish weighed 63.5 pounds and was caught by a local fisherman at Lake Pat Cleburne in 2015. It would have been the largest catfish ever caught in the lake, but the fisherman released it back into the water without registering it with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department first. The fisherman said the department was too far away, on the other side of the lake, and the fish wouldn’t survive if he registered the catch.
So, the catfish lives on in the lake. But the fisherman knew no one would believe his catch since most catfish typically grow to be less than 2-feet-long and between 15 and 30 pounds, so he called his wife to see the fish and take a photo before releasing it back into the 1,500-acre lake.
8. In 1901, the local women’s club began the Cleburne Public Library.
In 1902, members of the Cleburne Public Library met with Andrew S. Carnegie, asking him to help them secure funds for the building in which the library could be located. Carnegie did indeed give a gift to the library (said to be $20,000), which was only given to the group on the condition that the local community would match his donation. The donation was matched and the library was built and completed in 1905. It would be home to the library until 1978.
Today, the library is home to the Layland Museum and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum features artifacts from the area and is dedicated to preserving home and family life in Texas.
9. Cleburne is home to Yellow Jacket Stadium, more commonly known as The Rock, one of the most revered and respected football stadiums in Texas.
At the end of the Great Depression in 1939 The Rock was built, which is the same football stadium that Cleburne High School still uses today as its home field. The historical landmark is not actually located at the high school but is located closer to the center of town.
The stadium was constructed to replace Rhome Field, the original home of Cleburne football and where Cleburne won the first UIL State Football Championship in 1920. The new stadium, according to former Cleburne ISD Superintendent Ernest Guinn, was built on six and a half acres of another former superintendent’s pasture. It provided employment to locals who needed to work during the Great Depression. The project cost $80,000 at the time.
10. The Cleburne Railroad Museum has more than 500 artifacts from the area’s history as a railroad hub.
The Cleburne Railroad employed many people, and the railroad industry was a major driver of things in Cleburne. Today tours are led by Conductor Bob, who goes through the significance of the railroad in this area and can answer your questions about how it changed the town forever.
The Cleburne Railroad Museum opened in 2016 and is a free-to-visit museum. With more than 500 artifacts spanning the railroad’s 75-year history in the area, from miniature railroad sets to old signs, you never know what you’ll discover and learn about Cleburne’s history.
Photo Courtesy of Jhan Beaupre, Layland Museum and Cleburne Camera Club