"Busiest Town, Friendliest People"
De Leon is at the intersection of State highways 6 and 16, in northeast Comanche County. The Leon River is three miles northeast of town and flows into the headwaters of Proctor Lake, a United States Corps of Engineers reservoir, which is a source of water supply and a center of recreation. In this part of the Western Cross Timbers the natural vegetation includes post oak, mesquite, and prairie grass. The first town lots in De Leon were sold on July 7, 1881, by officials of the Texas Central Railroad. The sale, conducted from a flatcar, was attended by about 100 people. The townsite in August of that year comprised thirty-three blocks covered with trees and brush. A post office was established in 1881 and named De Leon (pronounced “Dee Leeáhn” by residents). It was probably named for the Leon River, which was named by Spanish explorers in 1721 in honor of Alonso De León, who had established settlements in East Texas.
With the expansion of the railroad west from Waco came the settlers from several southern states. They came to grow cotton and raise cattle. A few businesses were opened, such as a general store and a commissary for the railroad. The first physician came in 1882, and the first newspaper, the De Leon Messenger, was published in 1882. In 1886 racial tension mounted, and after a young black man, Tom McNeal, was lynched for murdering a white women, Sally Stephens, a sign was posted in De Leon warning blacks to leave. As late as 1942 no blacks lived in Comanche County; in 1970 only two were reported. The first two people buried in the cemetery west of town were Rev. and Mrs. Cyrus Campbell. Reverend Campbell was paid five dollars by the Republic of Texas to construct the leg irons used on Antonio López de Santa Anna after his capture at San Jacinto.
In 1906 the boll weevil came to the area, and the primary cash crop changed from cotton to peanuts. One carload of peanuts was produced in 1907. By 1914 a peanut mill had been built, and 500 carloads brought sixty cents a bushel. By 1915 De Leon had a population of 1,015, two churches, two banks, four cotton gins, and numerous small businesses. In 1929 peanuts sold for $1.20 a bushel. The cultivation and marketing of peanuts changed when irrigation was introduced in 1949 and artificial drying started in 1950. The crop then could be handled in bulk rather than in sacks. Peanuts continue to be the leading crop, but pecans, peaches, and melons bring in a large agricultural income. The discovery of oil led to an oil plant with storage tanks and refinery equipment. There was also a nitroglycerin plant with its own railway siding called Torpedo Junction. Both plants died with the end of the oil boom.
An annual Peach and Melon Festival is held in De Leon the first week of August. The celebration started in 1914 and features a De Leon High School reunion, free melon slicing, and the crowning of a festival queen. The event was attended by 32,000 people in 1983. The railroad was taken over by the Texas Central in 1967. In 1990 the town had two peanut mills, a feed processing plant, and a pump manufacturing facility with a worldwide market. The population was 2,190 in 1990 and 2,433 in 2000.