Glimpse of the Past: Historic Downtown Points to Hillsboro’s Future

When Hillsboro was laid out and lots sold in September 1853, the hardy residents were consumed with a syndrome known as “tyranny of the urgent.” So much to be done, buildings to be erected, marketing to take root, families to raise, cattle to tend, crops to grow and market… no time for reflection or serious planning. Thus, much of our history was lost in the absence of scribes to record for posterity the efforts and contributions of early residents in the development of the County Seat of Hill County.

In early development (1853-1883) Hillsboro was a frontier community that attracted entrepreneurs and people wanting a fresh start. Hillsboro was populated with settlers from New York, Indiana, Illinois, as well as Tennessee, Georgia, and other Southern States. Street names such as Franklin, Elm, Walnut, and Corsicana show a “neutral” approach, and early community leaders were memorialized in naming streets for Abbot, Craig, Fancher, Gould, etc.

After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, the swelling population shifted dramatically to settlers relocating from the Deep South. With the railroad’s arrival in 1881, families were coming to settle in this growing town and were demanding a new level of culture, civility, and progress. Tam and Dora Smith Brooks were such a family whose influence played a defining role in bringing progress and life to Hillsboro. 

Tamerlane Xenophon (Tam) Brooks was born in Georgia, 1844, the younger brother of Cincinnatus Ney Brooks, an early settler and an 1853 office-holder for Hill County. Tam Brooks served the Confederacy in Wheeler's Cavalry and was taken prisoner in the Battle of Chickamauga. He escaped from prison and served until the War’s end in 1865. He arrived in Hill County in 1867 and was engaged in ranching, stock trading and farming. In 1872 Tam Brooks married Dora Smith, daughter of Seaborn Smith who had moved to Hill County from Mississippi in 1864.

Tam and Dora Smith Books moved to Hillsboro in 1880 and purchased lumber from the first rail delivery of lumber to Hillsboro in 1881. The Brooks built a home at 323 East Elm and the family continued to occupy the property until the 1960's. In Hillsboro, Brooks was active in real estate and for many years operated Tam Brooks Grocery at 101 West Elm, currently Top Notch Personnel. The Brooks were charter members in 1881 of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (now site of Citizens National Bank) and the family supported Patterson's Institute and Culberson's Select School.

This strategic property, shown as a grocery store in the 1885 Sanborn maps and known to the community as Stroud's Corner, was home to the Olympia Candy Kitchen and Café from 1926-1958. Greek immigrants Billie and Johnnie Vlahakos opened the Olympia in 1908 at 115 West Elm in efforts to provide "curb-service" for the public now driving Model T's. The Vlahakos brothers purchased the elaborate furnishings form the Greek-American Candy Kitchen that was operated by Jim and Charlie Zarafonetis from 1901-1925 in the T.G. Hawkins Building at 56 West Elm. In late 20th century the property at Elm and Covington Streets was occupied by local realtor Miriam M. Pharris as Land-Tex Realtors.

While there have been revisions to the facade, the basic structure of the property at 101 West Elm remains primarily as built c. 1884. The interior has undergone many changes, and current owner Tim Campbell is making physical improvements to the interior of the building. The local staff, Tammy McCoy and Jennifer Rosales invite the public to stop in and see the work in progress in this downtown property.

The historic building at 101 West Elm has seen many changes in its 130+ year history, and residents of Hillsboro now are experiencing a new wave of optimism and expectancy about future progress and development of the Historic Downtown. We may yet see that "the best is yet to come."

CAPTION 1: Olympia Candy Kitchen and Café operated at SW corner of Covington and Elm Streets from 1926-1958. One of 4 Greek confectionaries that operated in downtown Hillsboro from 1901-1958. Jim and Charlie Zarafonetis came to Hillsboro in 1900 and Billie and Johnnie Vlahakos arrived in 1905.

CAPTION 2: Tam and Dora Smith Brooks celebrating 50th wedding anniversary with family in May 1922 at their home at 323 East Elm, constructed in 1881 from first load of lumber to arrive by rail in Hillsboro.

Historic Downtown points to Hillsboro's Future