These 20 acres were once a part of a 640-acre parcel of land granted to Henry Kraber in 1836 for his service in the Texas Republic Army. As it appears he chose not to settle in such a wild country at the time, it then fell into the hands of Robert Peebles, the Texas Land Commissioner appointed to this post by Stephen F. Austin.
As is often the case, history can be somewhat sketchy in the early years of Texas. But, land owners included members of the Charles L. Cleveland family (relatives of President Grover Cleveland). Charles was a judge in Liberty County/Galveston as well as a state legislator and businessman who owned more than 50,000 unimproved acres of land in several central and west Texas counties. His sons Sydney and Lander held title to the land as well during the 1870’s.
Additional land holders were: Major John Y. Rankin, a colorful character of varied experiences whom some have referred to as “the Father of Brownwood” because of his real estate business and his hand in promoting the early development of Brownwood; Silas C. Royalty, a businessman, whose occupation was a “hotel keeper” while living in the county and who later owned one of the first hotels in Ballinger and E.W. Fitzgerald who also owned and operated hotels in Brownwood.
A third Cleveland son, John Stewart Cleveland, was perhaps the one that put the biggest footprint on this site. John Stewart was considered a well-liked and respected person who was a lawyer and the county judge for several years. Upon his early death in 1890 at the age of 36, it appears that this land’s history became a bit tumultuous. The two story house burned down and Marie Louise, Judge Cleveland’s surviving wife and his daughter, Yrma, moved into the hired hand’s house that you see on the property. Soon after, they moved into Brownwood. For unknown reasons (perhaps Judge Cleveland passed away without a will) for the next few years after his death, E. W. Fitzgerald was listed as the owner on the tax records. According to these records, he typically had from 4 to 5 buggies/carriages and from 16 to 23 horses or mules. We may surmise that there was definitely some kind of commercial activity going on here with that number of horses and buggies. In 1898, Mary Louise Cleveland resumed ownership. Over time, she and Yrma, who inherited the land following her mother’s death, began selling parts of the original parcel. Though cattle were raised here early on, it was the vegetable crops that the property became renowned for. Ben P. Pelts, a very successful truck farmer, leased the land for many years growing everything from cabbage, corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe and okra. During World War II, as fears of food shortages spread, the rock barn became a site for vegetable storage due to its natural climate control to help relieve those fears. Ultimately, Yrma sold the last remaining 20 acres of the original 600 to Trewis Pelt, son of Ben, in 1963.
Veteran Owner WWII
Like many young men in the 1930’s, Trewis Elmer Pelt felt the call to duty during World War II. At sixteen he begged his parents to allow him to join, but they insisted he continue his schooling and forbid him to do so. Thus, he concocted a scheme to flunk himself out of school, and when he succeeded at the age of seventeen he chose to enlist in the Navy in 1943. Trewis, a Radarman, trained in San Diego and later shipped out to the South Pacific. He was serving on the USS England during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, when the destroyer escort was hit by a kamikaze attack. While the destroyer suffered inoperable damage, Trewis was badly burned and injured. As a result, he spent nearly four years in the hospital and recovering from his severe injuries before finally being able to return to Brownwood. Trewis received a Purple Heart, Presidential Citation, 7 Battle Stars and other medals and ribbons. It was then that he began farming and ultimately leased this land from Mrs. Yrma Cleveland-Jones. Trewis was a voracious reader of all things technical, agricultural and mechanical. He was a man of few words, loved classical music or any music as long as there were no words! If he needed a method or a machine to do something more efficiently, then he would just invent or build it. He loved experimenting with seeds and different varieties of crops. It was here that many locals still remember picking corn in the field, or dropping by for the sweetest of cantaloupes or leaving money on “honor system” at the fruit stand for a carton of tomatoes. Perhaps the summer of 1975 when he sold 48,000 ears of sweet corn in one day is a testament to the popularity of his farm! Trewis continued to farm into the early 1990’s leaving a legacy of farming innovation and as a humble caretaker of this land. He passed from his treasured earthly home in 2008.
On Going Research
The footprints upon this tract of land of these various people and their lives provide some wonderful stories, but the old rock livery stands as the signature symbol of this time gone by. This 2000-sq.ft. structure was built probably in the late 1870’s – though research is still ongoing. At this point, we are not sure who built it although we do know that Judge Cleveland had envisioned a thoroughbred horse farm but never totally saw that to fruition because of his untimely death. We do know that it was used periodically as a stagecoach stop for the Chidester Stagecoach mail route that ran from Fort Worth to Yuma when the bayou would flood and the stage could not cross further into Brownwood. We do not know the reason or origin of the name” Live Oak Farm” on the stone above the archway. This may have been something added later by Judge Cleveland’s daughter Yrma and perhaps was the name he had dreamed of naming his horse farm. This is mere conjecture. But, we do know its usefulness was maximized further by Trewis Pelt who painstakingly cared for it with what was most assuredly a reverence to its history and perhaps an eye to its future; and, we do know that we all should offer due respect to the people and places that are our history.