THROWBACK THURSDAY: Neighboring Florence once boasted of railway, unique cattle feed operation

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By JAMES WEAR

This week we’re inviting readers to join us for a drive over to Florence, a small town located in the northeastern portion of the Shin Oak Ridge as defined by J. Gordon Bryson in his book Culture of the Shin Oak Ridge Folk.

Florence and Liberty Hill, at one time, were fierce rivals in sports with that rivalry ending a few years back as Liberty Hill schools simply grew at a faster rate as the result of subdivisions springing up in its outlying areas and the Liberty Hill ISD found itself moving up in UIL classifications.

Meanwhile, Florence and the area surrounding has remained largely ranch land, although in recent years ranches have been giving way to “ranchettes” as old family land is being sold to developers who are carving up large tracts of land into smaller parcels. And while the school district has grown, the district’s population has not exploded like Liberty Hill.

Florence dates back to 1848 with one of its early settlers, a Mr. Brooks, naming it Brooksville. It is said he later changed the name to Florence following the birth of a daughter he and his wife named Florence.

Before that, however, I have come across accounts that claim Florence was first known as “Limp Rag” although I have not read anything explaining what inspired that name. There is some dispute how Florence received its name, with some believing it got its name from Florence, Alabama, the one-time home of its first postmaster.

Downtown Florence continues to look much like it did when I was attending Florence schools more than 40 years ago, although in recent years some of the buildings have undergone facelifts. In its early years, a cheese factory was among several businesses to be found in Florence.

The town has had several newspapers over the years, including the Florence Vidette with a large number of copies of that particular publication having been digitally scanned and available for view through the city’s public library website.

Perhaps the most unique business to operate out of Florence was the Texas Carbonate Company, better known simply as the “carbotex.”

Although it has been closed for many years now, at one time the plant, located a mile or so west of the city limits off FM 970, was one of two plants worldwide (the other being in Asia) that produced a product (calcium carbonate) used in cattle feed.

An advertisement appearing in a 1955 issue of The Cattleman encouraged ranchers to “feed Carbotex and salt fifty-fifty for the prevention of bloat on green pasture…” and further claimed “the truth by proof will sell you Carbotex.”

Another historical business that once served Florence was the Bartlett Western Railway, which was chartered in 1911. Originally 11 miles of railway between Bartlett and Jarrell, the company expanded its line to reach Florence by 1912, with John McDowell of Florence a member of its board of directors.

The railway was primarily used to ship cotton and operated successfully for several years. But as cotton prices declined in the mid-1920s, earnings took a dive and by 1935 the Bartlett Western ceased operations and abandoned its 23 miles of track.

Today, Florence remains a close-knit community that takes particular pride in the accomplishments of its vocational agriculture students, with many over the years taking first place in state competitions.

The fire department remains largely volunteer, and continues to work closely with Liberty Hill firefighters on mutual aid calls.

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