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Sterling, a Texas Ghost Town

August 07, 2019 - 00:00
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Sterling was a vibrant town in the Brazos River bottom of Robertson County in the mid-1800s. Today, it is one of the many Texas ghost towns, though Sterling is forever marked by a historic eleven-acre cemetery that is a monument to its past and dedication of its once many steadfast citizens.

In 1836 a land grant was issued to early settler A. J. Webb. In 1850 the land was purchased by Judge Robert Calvert. Several pioneering families settled along with Calvert in the area. They named the town Sterling in honor of Sterling Clack Robertson who was an empresario from Tennessee during Mexican Texas that introduced 600 families into what became Robertson’s Colony.

Despite Indian raids and the hardships of disease that took many settlers and their children, the fertile Brazos River bottom land continued to lure settlers.

The town of Sterling thrived with several mercantile stores, saloons, churches, blacksmiths, post office and a Masonic Lodge. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built on Judge Calvert’s land preceding the Civil War by slaves using the local walnut trees. During the Civil War it was a major mustering point with plantation owners and farmers providing cotton and wool for uniforms, horses and equipment and food for the Confederates.

After the Civil War, in early 1867 the railroad construction that had stopped at Millican, well south of Sterling eked northward. However, as it approached Sterling the Houston & Texas Central Railway Company laid tracts 2 miles east of the thriving town of Sterling. The Railroad’s choice to the east of Sterling was to avoid the proximity to the vast Brazos River’s flood plain. Judge Calvert along with Judge William Davis and Major William Hanna were active in granting land for the H. & T.C. as well as for a depot and a laid-out town.

The town was named Calvert after Judge Calvert. By the time the first train rolled into Calvert in 1869, Judge Calvert had died of yellow fever Sept. 20, 1867. He was buried near the front of the Sterling Cemetery.

Within a short time, the vibrant town of Sterling became a ghost town. During the migration of Sterling to Calvert, with Judge Calvert dead, Calvert’s wife and daughters deeded the Presbyterian church and adjacent cemetery on the Calvert Sterling property to the Cumberland Presbyterians. In time the church itself was moved to Calvert where it still stands currently serving the public.

Immediately, Calvert businesses opened to provide dry goods, groceries, cobblers, blacksmiths, tailors, drug stores, doctors, dentists and farm implements. Saloons prospered. The Sanger Brothers opened a store before the first train pulled into Calvert. The Singer Sewing Machine Company operated successfully on Main Street.

In 1873, a Yellow Fever epidemic decimated the Calvert population. By the early 1900s it is said that Calvert’s Main Street, through which Highway 36 travels presently has remained frozen in time. On Calvert’s eastern side remain many of the grand Victorian era homes that often can be toured with the auspices of the Calvert Historical Foundation.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. Visit for more information or to become a member.