Brown County Historical Society Scrapbook: J.R. Looney, early businessman

Brownwood Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

Around Brownwood, several things bear the name Looney: Looney Street, Looney Park, and a cornerstone in the parking lot of St. Johns’ church referring to the Looney School.

Who was J. R. Looney?

Looney was involved with many enterprises and institutions in Brown County over the 50 years of his residence in Brownwood. He devoted a lot of time to public service in the county. He served ten years as alderman (city councilman), beginning in the 1890’s. He was a public school trustee for many years, and served five terms as mayor, during a part of which time he also was city manager.

Looney came to Brownwood in 1875. He moved to Brownwood from McKinney with his wife. They had been married one year. The remainder of their lives was spent in Brownwood. Mr. Looney died on July 11, 1929 and Mrs. Looney died on August 2, 1933. Both were natives of Tennessee. Mr. Looney was born near the small town of Goodlettsville, about twelve miles north of Nashville. Mrs. Looney was born and raised  west of Lebanon.

When he was 20 years old, in December 1869, Looney and his brother-in-law, W.P. Cloyd, started from Tennessee to Texas. They made the long, difficult trip partly by boat and partly by freight wagon. The latter part of the journey was made in unusually bad weather. Cloyd was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Looney was a member of the church. Cloyd’s purpose for coming to the southwest was to establish a new home and to do missionary work for his church. He was also a teacher, and with Looney as an assistant, the pair engaged in teaching during their first year in Texas.

Looney went back to Tennessee for a visit later. While he was there, he married Laura Hewgley on September 24, 1874. The couple immediately came back to Texas. reaching McKinney in October. After another year, they moved to Brown County. Dave Mallow was with them.They arrived in Brownwood on October 23, 1875.

The newcomers started their lives in the vicinity of what later was known as the Mallow well in the Clio community. Looney found a man who owned a small preemption survey track and traded a wagon and a pair of mules for the claim. This left the two families of settlers with only one wagon. The Looneys lived in a tent until a cabin could be built out of poles on a quarter section of the land.

For 13 years, the Looneys lived in the Clio community. They cleared their land and got a good start of cattle, hogs and other livestock. Then the severe drought of 1866-67 hit and added hardship and difficulty. They lived simply, saved, and managed to pay for their 592 acres of land.

In the autumn of 1888, Looney decided to move to Brownwood with his family. He got a job with the Brown County Milling Company as the manager. He held this position for a couple of years, and, in 1890, he and John F. Wilson, another pioneer, bought a small stock of groceries and started a store.They started a mercantile business, which was known for the next several decades as the Looney Mercantile Company. They had a large space on the public square, where the courthouse is now located. Looney soon purchased Wilson’s interest in the business and they went their separate ways.

Looney’s public service began immediately after he moved to Brownwood, and continued throughout the remainder of his years. In 1894, he was elected alderman (city councilman) and served continuously for 10 years. He served as a member of the board of Public School Trustees. The Looney Ward School was named after him. (It was located where the vacant lot is next to St. John’s Church.) He was elected mayor in 1907 and retired voluntarily after serving four terms (eight years), and he served again in 1920. After the city  charter was adopted in 1916, he was elected mayor again and for two years served as city manager and mayor.

During this period of public service, he instituted many permanent improvements throughout the town, and worked unceasingly on behalf of municipal ownership of public utilities, strengthening the city’s water and sewer department and laying the groundwork for the establishment of the city’s gas service in later years.

In the early 1890’s, Looney, along with other civic leaders, began working to build a water reservoir, that later became Lake Brownwood. In honor of his memory, one large bay of the present lake was named after him.  While mayor, he greatly increased the city’s water supply by improving the dams on Pecan Bayou, which impounded the domestic water supply.

The Looneys were active in church work.They were members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church until that organization was merged with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. After he retired from active business life,  Looney spent his time in various activities of civic nature. When he was in his 80s, he still played golf.

Many people came to the area when it was undeveloped and worked hard to live and to improve life for themselves and others. The Brown County Historical Society printed a history of Looney, but it is out of print. More information can be found at the Brown County Genealogy Research Library in the 200 block of  South Broadway.