Just a quick drive from Denton, Southlake or Fort Worth, Wise County retains the characteristics of a rural, agriculture-oriented community.
Most of the 59,415 residents of Wise County live in rural, unincorporated areas. Bridgeport and Decatur are the largest towns, with populations just over 6,000. Other cities – Alvord, Boyd, Chico, Lake Bridgeport, New Fairview, Newark, Paradise, Rhome and Runaway Bay – have fewer than 2,000 residents.
The county has experienced steady growth over the last few decades, with the population doubling since 1990.
Seventeen fire departments cover the 905-square-mile county. All of the departments are volunteer except for the Decatur Fire Department.
The county is home to several rodeo stars, including Trevor Brazile, Roy Cooper and K.C. Jones, and bull riders Silvano Alves, Mario Eguche, Renato Nunes, Valdiron de Oliveira, Fabiano Vieira, and Ross Johnson.
Just about every town in the county has an annual festival, including Bridgeport’s Coal Miner’s Festival and Butterfield Stage Days, Decatur’s Chisholm Trail Days, Newark’s Cruisin’ Days and Runaway Bay’s FourthFest.
The county has a varied history. Carved from Cooke County in 1856, the county was named after U.S. Senator Henry A. Wise. Three courthouses burned before the county constructed the pink granite courthouse in the late 1800s. The courthouse opened in January 1897.
The first settlers battled with Native Americans for control of the frontier land while establishing various communities in the county. Many of those communities would fade away as railroad companies built tracks across the county. Communities with railroad service boomed, while bypassed communities died.
Cotton fueled the early economy, with agriculture and livestock remaining important industries throughout most of the 20th century.
Bridgeport boasted a coalmining industry, with about 20 mines operating from 1882 through 1942. Bridgeport’s mining days ended when natural gas was discovered in the area and coal was no longer in demand.
Decatur Baptist College constructed its administration building in 1893. Known to be the world’s first junior college, Decatur Baptist College operated from 1891 until it moved to Dallas in 1965. The administration building now houses the Wise County Heritage Museum.
The museum is home to the Lost Battalion Room, dedicated to the 900 men taken prisoner in the Pacific Theater by the Japanese during World War II. The men, mostly from Wise and Jack counties, were held captive for 42 months and were forced to build railroads and work in coal mines and shipyards before their release.
Today, natural gas wells dot the Wise County landscape and provide an important economic base to the county. With the rise and fall of that industry, so does the economy and population of the county.