Mart, Texas, is a small town eighteen miles east of Waco on State Highway 164 in the eastern corner of McLennan County. Settlement in the area began shortly after the Civil War. The community was known as Willow Springs in the 1870s, but the name was changed to Mart when a post office was granted to the town in 1880. Residents chose this name because they expected the community to become an important commercial center.
In the mid-1880s, Mart had two steam gristmills and cotton gins, a church, two schools, and 150 residents; cotton and wheat were the principal cash crops grown in the area. The International and Great Northern Railroad completed a section of track between Marlin and Waco shortly after 1900, bringing increased job opportunities to Mart and making outside markets more accessible. In 1901, residents voted to incorporate a mayor-council form of city government and to establish an independent school district. The First National Bank of Mart was organized in 1901, the Farmers and Merchants National Bank in 1904, and the First State Bank in 1909. Local improvements included sidewalks, paved streets, electric lights, and telephone facilities. Population estimates for Mart rose from 300 in 1900 to 2,939 in 1910. By 1914 the community had an ice factory, three cotton gins, a cotton oil mill, a daily and a weekly newspaper, and 3,000 residents.
Banks in Mart weathered the Great Depression fairly well. Though the State Bank merged with First National in 1931, the transition went smoothly, and patrons experienced no interruption in service. Economic hardship made itself felt instead through the decision of the railroad company to discontinue its passenger service through Mart and leave only limited freight operations. Many residents left to find jobs in larger cities. The number of residents in Mart fell from a high of 3,800 in 1929 to 2,853 in the early 1930s. A slow decline continued for the next several decades: the population was 2,273 in 1950, 2,197 in 1960, and 2,183 in 1970. The number of businesses decreased as well, falling from 102 in the 1950s to forty-eight in the 1970s.
The Missouri Pacific acquired a shorter Waco-to-Marlin route from the Southern Pacific in the late 1960s and completely abandoned its tracks through Mart, depriving the community of its remaining rail service and removing a sizeable payroll from the local economy. The Mart population dipped to 2,031 in the late 1970s but was 2,324 in 1982. It was 2,004 in 1990. By 2000 the population reached 2,273.
View the Oral History posts to learn more about different aspects of the Mart community.