Think about a town in Fannin County with a population of over 2,000 people. It has several grocery stores, drug stores, banks, clothing stores, and 4 hotels. You’d be forgiven if you think I’m referring to Bonham, which is easily the largest city in Fannin County. In fact, I’m referring to Ladonia. But not Ladonia as it is today. That description comes from Ladonia Historian Muriel Burleson. It describes the city as it was in the 1890s.
Ladonia was established in the 1840s. It was originally named McCownville after its first businessman Frank McCown. The name was changed in 1857 to honor a traveling singer, LaDonna Millsay, who entertained the town during a wagon train stop over.
What made Ladonia so big at the time was the arrival of the Santa Fe Railway. Ladonia became a major shipping hub and farming community due to the fertile land of the area. This boom in the Ladonia economy was not without its issues.
A fire that devastated the east side of the town square. Three people died in the fire, which also damaged or destroyed 27 businesses. Ladonia’s citizens overcame this obstacle and built a massive brick firehouse that was a main fixture of the square until its demolition in 1952.
So how did Ladonia go from a thriving community of over 100 businesses to its relatively quiet size today? The answer comes in two parts: the Great Depression and the loss of the railroad. The Great Depression hit Fannin County hard and by 1936 the population had been cut in half. The departure of the railroad prior to the 1960s resulted in a major loss of income as Ladonia ceased being a travel destination or shipping hub.
Ladonia’s business dwindled during the 1990s and today there are only a handful of shops and restaurants left. But, the Ladonia square of today still bears many of the historic buildings. Some have been converted into antique stores or other shops, whereas some have become private residences. The two story hotel, one of four from the early 1900s, is still visible and has been the subject of a restoration project in recent years. There are still restaurants and general good stores in Ladonia and while the population is in the 600s, now the people that are there have the same resilience and determination of their predecessors, and are just the kind of people you find along the backroads of Northeast Texas.