Dime Box, Texas Keeps Heritage Alive

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on January 20, 2002

Dime Box residents hear the question almost daily. Newcomers and drivers just passing through town invariably ask, “Dime Box? How did you get that name?”

Natives smile and relate the community’s unique and lasting link to long-ago rural postal service.

Dime Box, Texas, (pop. 400), a community settled by Stephen F. Austin’s colonists in the 1830s, was originally called Brown’s Mill after an early settler named Joseph S. Brown and an old grist mill where settlers met to grind corn and visit, longtime resident Woodrow Spacek says.

Brown’s Mill got its first post office in June of 1877, but the U.S. Postal Service recommended a name change, since the town’s moniker was too close to “Brownsville” in south Texas. One resident suggested “Dime Box” because many locals often used a large, wooden box to forward and receive mail, or order small items from a carrier on horseback traveling to nearby Giddings. They would leave a dime in the box in payment. Modern residents, many from families who lived in town more than five generations, hope to someday place a large, metal mailbox replica in the community as a tourist attraction.

Spacek, 80, says the story of the town’s name is sometimes distorted, citing the tale that citizens left dimes to order snuff.

“I have always known that wasn’t right. It was for small freight, carrying letters, that kind of thing,” he says.

The town was on the national stage in 1945 as the first to have 100 percent participation in the March of Dimes campaign, in which the public was asked to send dimes to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to fight polio. Residents sent their dimes in a mailbox, which was later shipped back. The next year, Dime Box, along with New York, Chicago, and Hollywood, kicked off the national March of Dimes campaign.

Spacek and Larry Lehmann say the town’s roots in the Czech and German culture have kept residents close. Lehmann’s great-grandmother’s family arrived in Dime Box from the Wendish province (near the present-day Czech Republic) in 1854. Lehmann, who has owned a welding shop in town since 1978, still remembers old and young speaking fluent German or Czech downtown and in school.

“There were kids that spoke nothing but German in the home, and they first learned English when they went to school,” Lehmann says.

Jean Blaha Davis, who grew up in Dime Box in the 1950s, says the town once had a drugstore, an ice cream parlor, a dry goods store, a barber shop, three service stations, three grocery stores, and three cafes. There’s still a bank, a hardware store, a grocery store, a feed store, a restaurant, two beauty shops, two auto repair shops, and Lehmann’s welding shop.

Davis, who left Dime Box in 1954 but returned in 1995, fondly recalls residents gathering downtown at various businesses on Saturday, sitting on benches outside, and visiting for hours.

“Germans, Czechs, Catholics, and Protestants, the whole community would all visit together. I always liked that,” she says.

Residents help keep the German and Czech heritage alive by volunteering at the Dime Box Heritage Museum, where locals can peruse genealogical data and artifacts.

“I have learned a lot from going through all the old books and pictures,” Spacek says.

Davis, Bonnie Langham, Spacek, Don Whitsel, and Sharon Biehle, all moved away for a time, but responded to the tug of home and eventually returned.

“I wanted my kids to have that small school environment. Both of my sons graduated from here, and they still live here,” Whitsel says.

Dime Box residents never stop thinking of the town as home. The winding roadway through downtown takes them past familiar surroundings, a school, a grocery store, a bank and a post office—all within walking distance. It still offers them a sense of roots and normalcy, pride in a unique history, and a chance to tell visitors about that unusual name—one more time.