Most people in Conroe are probably familiar with the new development known as Grand Central Park.  Situated along IH-45 between the San Jacinto River to the south and the South Loop 336 to the north, this impressive residential and commercial community features many outdoor amenities, including two beautiful lakes—Deer Lake and the larger Grand Lake.

Locals recall when this property was known as Camp Strake, a 2000-acre Boy Scout camp that offered recreational and camping activities to tens of thousands of boys over a span of 70+ years (including me.)   When Camp Strake was sold to the Johnson Development Corp. a number of years ago, the developer had the good sense to preserve Grand Lake and its nearby Deer Lake.  Both are still accessible to the residents in the development.

For several generations, Grand Lake served as a popular recreational spot for nearby Conroe residents going back to the late 1800’s.  Many a story has been told about the families that used it as a summer retreat for fishing, boating and camping.  Many a young couple courted along the banks of Grand Lake.  One story about the lake written by Conroe resident Mary Alice Hunt was featured a few months ago in the Courier newspaper.  https://www.yourconroenews.com/125years/article/Artist-teacher-Mary-Alice-Hunt-tells-of-Grand-13111442.php

The Montgomery County Clerk’s real property records include a circa-1912 plat of a proposed new town to be known as “Grand Lake.” The plat shows streets laid out with lots set aside for a city hall, a school and even a cemetery.  Someone’s vision for a new town never materialized, and several years later Conroe oilman George Strake purchased the timbered property and donated it to the Boy Scouts in 1934.  Camp Strake became a summer retreat for boys across the State of Texas for decades to follow.  Several Boy Scout structures still stand there today.

But there was another vision for Grand Lake in 1920.   The attached article in the July 2, 1920 edition of the Conroe Courier announces a new ”first class restaurant” on Grand Lake, opened by J. K. Ayers, Jr., the son of the developer of downtown Conroe.  Being a promoter like his father, Ayers, Jr. promoted Grand Lake as a “…summer resort with free camping  grounds, free use of bath houses, and plenty of refreshments and good eats at a first class restaurant on the bank of the lake.”

Presumably, the resort on the lake was short-lived.  At that time, Jr.’s family no doubt owned the land surrounding Grand Lake.  Jr’s dad, Captain J. K. Ayers had been a successful timberman and owned many acres of timber along the railroad intersecting the County from Houston north to Palestine  (Union Pacific RR today).  After the Civil War, Capt. Ayers operated his sawmill on the railroad with a stop described on the old county maps as “Ayers.” This sawmill was in the immediate vicinity and due east of Grand Lake. (It is believed that the sawmill was near the intersection of what is today Crighton Road and IH-45. )

Capt. Ayers, who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, also owned a tract of undeveloped timberland due north of his Ayers sawmill, at the intersection of two railroads.  There another man named Isaac Conroe started a whistle-stop sawmill community in 1881, first known as “Conroe’s Switch.”  In 1889, Capt. Ayers organized a petition to hold a county-wide election to move the county seat from Montgomery to Conroe. The election of May 1889 was successful, and the county courthouse records were quickly moved by wagon at night from the wooden courthouse in Montgomery.  Ayers promptly platted his “Ayers Addition,” with a block for a courthouse and another block designated for a county jail (where Conroe Tower stands today).  Both lots were sold to the County for $1 each.   Two years later, the first brick county courthouse was dedicated in 1891.

Such is the story of a father and son who had visions for development in our county: Capt. Ayes was instrumental in the growth of a small sawmill community while his son Junior strived unsuccessfully to make his mark along the bank of the Grand Lake.  And that is the rest of the story…

Larry L. Foerster, Chairman

Montgomery County Historical Commission