SANGER — One cloudy day, the sun barely emits light through the window of an old wooden house. Jim Henderson sits in his living room with two old books filled with pages of his family history.
As he turns each page, a slight crackle depicts its age. Pictures of grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and their lives in Sanger bring back childhood memories and faces of his family — many of whom Henderson never met but serve as the foundation of who he is and where he comes from.
Henderson is the street superintendent in Sanger and lives off Bolivar Street in the downtown area with his wife and four children. His family is one of the oldest African-American families to settle in the farmlands of Sanger.
Henderson’s great-grandfather traveled north in the early 1900s in search of a better life from the cotton fields of Louisiana.
He traveled north from Houston with his wife and children to a small farm in Sanger, where they were among the first African-American families in the town.
The Henderson and Newbine families were among the few African-American families in Sanger during that time and their history and legacy still lingers in the streets of the city today, with many generations of family members still there.
“Everyone is still here,” Pauline Newbine said. “The whole family lives down the street from each other like it’s always been.”
The Henderson and Newbine families quickly became good friends and lived quietly in the small country town.
Jim Henderson’s grandfather, Paul Henderson, started a business as a garbage collector in Sanger in the 1950s.
“My grandfather needed to make a living, so he started a business of picking up trash with a 55-gallon barrel,” Jim Henderson said. “He would walk around town with the barrel twice a week and take everyone’s trash and people would pay him enough for him to get by with his family.”
Paul Henderson worked five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
He furnished his own truck and provided all the equipment needed for the job.
He was paid $340 a month for his services.
Sanger was founded in the late 1880s as a stop on the Santa Fe Railroad route and quickly became an epicenter for cattle transportation during those times.
Cattle from the Denton and Fort Worth region were taken up trails to Sanger for the northern markets.
As the railroad business began to decline, development in the town became stagnant until the establishment of the interstate highway linking Sanger to cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth and towns in Oklahoma.
Right off Interstate 35, Sanger lies between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the Oklahoma border.
Economic development and growth has brought more people to the city, changing much of its structure, laws and regulations.
During recent years, businesses have started and more people have been drawn away from the city life into the rural areas.
“It’s different nowadays here,” Jim Henderson said. “You need permits for everything like all the new city codes … it’s hurting us.”
Today, Sanger has a population of approximately 6,200 people, according to the most recent census.
The city has experienced slow but significant growth and development since the 1980s. While the economic progress can be appealing to most, some miss the old days.
“There’s a lack of country space nowadays,” said Joseph Iliff, director of development services in Sanger. “Back in the day, everyone in town knew everybody, but now there’s more people moving in and the sense of small town is being lost.”
The days that Jim Henderson dreams about for his family and himself are merely memories locked away in an old photo book.
“I wish my kids could grow up the way I did, in a small farm town outside — the simple way,” he said.