Balch community

COURTESY/DON JOHNSON

Residents of the former Parker County community of Balch in 1901. 

Named after its postmaster E.T. Balch, the first history in Parker County was written about the Balch community, which was published in 1877.

Balch served as the community’s postmaster in 1859 where mail went out twice a month by horse from Waco to Fort Belknap.

“It is thought it was named for the U.S. postmaster from that period. In later years I read that it was on the old road into North Texas coming from San Antonio and continuing on to Fort Belknap. If so, it would have preceded the establishment of the town of Weatherford, and possibly would have been here during the Republic of Texas days,” Parker County resident Don Johnson said. “There was a cotton gin operated by Matt and Jim Cretsinger located on a branch of Sanches Creek that flows today underneath Horseshoe Bend Road at the intersection of Bethel Road. On the opposite side of the same road was the residence of Dr. W.M. Campbell. He later moved to Weatherford and practiced medicine there for well over 50 years.”

Balch preceded Silas Smith, who was the first postmaster of the community.

“Silas Smith, Balch’s first postmaster, is buried at the Smith Valley Cemetery, which I visited last week for the first time in 15 years or so. It is located near the junction of Bethel and Tin Top roads,” Parker County Historical Commission member Bill Warren said. “Smith again served as the Confederate postmaster beginning in 1862 when it was a small mail station on the route between Waco and Fort Belknap during the Civil War.”

Campbell, an early settler of the community, had many recollections of conditions when he was a boy and attended the Sanches Creek School, according to Parker County Historian Donna McCauley.

“He recalls that the schoolyard was full of beehives. As quickly as the closing bell sounded, the children would rush to the branch to escape being stung,” McCauley said. “Geese belonging to African Americans on the branch, however, usually frightened the children until they rushed back in the direction of the bees.”

Balch was complete with several stores, a mill, the cotton gin and a sawmill.

“Shortly after 1900, the Balch school was moved east a quarter-mile on Thompson Road to property donated by Louis Thompson. It remained there for a few short years, then made its final move two miles south on Bethel Road. This was to facilitate and accommodate the folks that lived in the Irby community that consolidated with Balch in the early 1920s,” Johnson said. “Walker Bend — now Horseshoe Bend — also consolidated with Balch about the same time. This occurred when school buses began to be used to transport children to school.”

Johnson said Balch also had a baseball team at one time that played well into the 1940s against other communities in Parker County.

“A tornado demolished the school in the 1930s and it was rebuilt in the same location,” Johnson said. “I grew up knowing people who went to all three of the schools that eventually comprised Balch.”

For a time, the community’s name was known as Irby as well as several others.

“The community was also known as Irby, Tin Top and New Prospect,” Warren said. “Benjamin Irby was a rancher on the Brazos River in the southern part of the county.”

Johnson said a man was killed when the cotton gin was moved to Irby.

“A local man helping to move the gin equipment, a Mr. James, was killed when the team pulling the wagon loaded with the boiler ran away and the wagon overturned,” Johnson said. “Shortly, because of the tin roof on the gin, Irby became Tin Top.”

A combination of residents from prior communities created Tin Top community.

“The name Tin Top derived from the cotton gin built there in 1909; it had a galvanized-metal roof that could be seen for miles,” McCauley said. “The community lay dormant [on Farm-to-Market Road 2580] until 1949 when its few scattered residents combined with of nearby Balch, Horseshoe Bend and Hightower under the name Tin Top — they built a community center and re-established churches.”

Not much else is known about the communities that once were, but the Horseshoe Bend community remains as well as the roads Bethel and Tin Top.

“From 1980 through 1990 the community reported a population of 25,” McCauley said. “The Tin Top Suspension Bridge, which spans the Brazos River, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”

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