In 1835, five years before Perry County was formed, a man by the name of Robert Brown led a group of people from the Big Sandy River country near Prestonburg, Kentucky, to Arkansas territory. They traveled on flatboats, along with their worldly possessions, down such waterways as the Big Sandy, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and finally the Arkansas. At a point about three miles northwest of Houston, the group disembarked and set about building homes for themselves. They were not the first settlers in the area and soon Mr. Brown could see a real need for a landing dock near the settlement so people could ship their products and receive goods in return. In the next few years Brown's Landing was a center of activity, with boats landing regularly to unload, load, and refuel for the journey upstream. Furs, cotton, wood shakes, grains, and perhaps a few barrels of whiskey made up on ordinary load.
Just behind Brown's Landing, about 2 miles west, were a few small cabins. This was the beginning of Old Houston and named for John L. Houston, who later moved to Perryville.
The community that was known as Houston in the middle years of the 19th century was two miles north of Houston's present site. In that day it was a settlement of a few houses, a blacksmith shop and two or three small stores. There was a building nearby, called Bethel school that served as both church and school. Today a cemetery is all that remains of Old Houston. As the 1800's drew to a close, news came that a railroad was planning a track through Perry County. This railroad, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf [later the Chicago Roack Island and Pacific], decided to cut through the mountain northwest of Houston where they obtained cheaper land. In 1899 work started with men laying the track in front of the train which carried the crossties used in construction. Late in 1899, the first train came through the area that is now Houston, and the company constructed a depot. With the coming of the train, the business men of Old Houston began moving closer to the tracks to take advantage of freighting facilities.
The coming of the railroad brought new consumer needs to Houston. Mrs. Long owned and operated a hotel, and the general stores did a thriving business. One of the stores housed a post office. The little town had its own doctor and druggist.
Houston was a progressive community in those years immediately following 1900. People were kept up to date on local and national news by a newspaper called the "Houston Weekly". A local millinery kept the ladies current on hat fashions. In 1902, the Bank of Houston was founded. In 1908, a band of outlaws rode into town, robbed the bank and then set the building on fire. It burned, along with several other buisnesses. The buildings were replaced and the bank reopened in 1910. Records show that by 1919, the bank had a capitol of $15,000.
The population 1920 was 403 in the town's incorporated limits. Business was good and other business people moved into the area. Spencer's Meat Market opened in 1918 and another general store set up business, along with a barber shop on the side. It was about this time that a doctor aby the name of Alexander opened a small hospital.
One of the merchants who mvoed from Old Houston to the new settlement was George Loveless. He had operated a general store at Old Houston but he sold out and became Houston's blacksmith. He added a casket making shop. The caskets Mr. Loveless built were designed so that the ends became narrow. The caskets were covered in black or gray fabric for adults and white for children. he added beautiful brass handles to create the forerunner of the elaborate caskets we see today. mr. Loveless' grandson, Oscar Lawson, join him in the blacksmith business and in 1909 assumed proprietorship. In 1901 W.J. Thomas and son, Doss, came to Houston from Faulkner County. In 1906, the Thomases opened a butcher shop and shoe repair shop. In 1916, Doss opened a general mercantile, a soda fountain, and a barber shop. Sometime later his son, Maurice, took over the barber shop which closed in the early 1960's. Doss's daughter, Clara, and her husband, Ray Taylor, begain operation of the store in 1955. The Taylors operated the store until Ray's death in 1975. At that time the Taylor's daughters and grandchildren managed the store, making five generation of one family in that business. Late in 1975, the store was sold to Ward Lawson, a lifelong resident of Houston.
Many one room schools had been in use in the Houston area. It was in 1902 that a two room structure was reected where the vacant school building stands today. The teachers that year were John A. Reed, who was also a lawyer, and Miss Effie Jenkins. This was the first school that had all 12 grades. Finally in 1914, school enrollemnt had grown to the point that the building was torn down and a two story brick building was put up. The Houston school was the first school in the area to have a Smith-Hughes class (now called vocational agriculture), and M.D. Johnson was the first instructor. Mr. Johnson encouraged the people in the community to advance in every possible way. It was through his efforts that a gymnasium building was started. While working on the building, Mr. Johnson fell and broke his leg, which had to be amputated.
When the gymnasium was completed in 1929, it housed the first indoor basketball court in Perry County. it was built by donated labor and donated money. The Smith-Hughes class tore down an old lumber shed at Bigelow and hauled the lumber to the site on wagons pulled by mules, to use in the gym.
The land where the May cemetery is located was donated in 1873 by Mr. and Mrs. Josh May. The first man to be buried there was Mr. May's good friend, Bobby Brown, son of Robert Brown. Mr. May himself died one year later, becoming the second to be laid to rest in the land he donated for that ppurpose. Many headstones in the cemetery are those of Civil War veterans.
The little school called Bethel had served many years for a place to worship. People of all denominations attended church there. But sometime in the early 1890's a church was built about a mile southwest of Bethel on land given by Margaret Long. Tom Brazil layed the cornerstone of this building and some of the members built the pews. After the railroad came through and when the townsite was laid out, it took in the church lots. The church then became known as Houston Methodist Church. About 1912 the building was torn down and replaced with a better one, which still stands. In 1916, the first wedding ceremony was held in the new church when Imo Davis, daughter of W.H. and Isabelle, married Carl Adams. The ceremony was performed by Rev. I.L. Claud.
Along with the Methodist Church, other churches were built in the area. The first Baptist Church was built about 1900, but stood only two years when it was destroyed by a severe storm. It was rebuilt that same year and that building has been in use since then. A new building is being completed (1976) to replace this structure. In 1910, the Free Pentecost Church was erected on the south edge of Houston and replaced in 1951 by a new one. It is now known as the Assembly of God.
In 1972 a new post office and city hall building went up in Houston. It is a modern, functional building in sharp contrast to the abandoned stores up the road a bit, stores with false fronts and old-fashioned door locks. The horse and buggy traffice of the 1800'2 and early 1900's is only a whisper from the past, as is the chugging, coughing spasms of the first "horseless carriage" back in 1912. It is a community of private homes inhabited by people who love Houston and have a heritage to be proud of.