Thursday, January 9, 2014

Mount Vernon

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

I'm often asked just what does the State Historian do? I answer that I'm an ambassador for Texas History, and that I travel throughout the Lone Star State to participate in historical events and meetings. And at some point during my reply, I grin and point out, "I get to play Texas History every day!"
The 1912 jail stands beside the courthouse.

During my tenure of a year and a half, one of my most delightful and rewarding "Texas History Play Days" took place in Mount Vernon on Monday, January 6. Several months ago I was contacted by Cynthia Loftis, who arranged a date for me to present a Texas history program to the Franklin County Historical Association in Mount Vernon. More than a decade ago I provided a program at the handsome 1912 court house, which is currently undergoing renovation through a Texas Historical Commission grant. 
The Mount Vernon Library originally
was a bank building dating
from 1912.

I was pleased at the opportunity to return to Mount Vernon, 
and a few days before the event I learned that there would be a wonderful bonus for the State Historian. Cynthia Loftis invited me to arrive a few hours before the evening event. The president of the Franklin County Historical Association, B.F. Hicks, and board member/education director Donna McFarland had volunteered to tour me through the local historical sites. I arrived at the law offices of B.F. Hicks, located across the street from the court house. Donna and B.F. were waiting. They offered a preliminary description and provided me with a stack of publications. The Franklin County Historical Association has published a number of softcover and hardcover books and pamphlets, including: Mount Vernon During the 1940s and 1950s; driving tour booklets; A History of Mt. Vernon by B.F. Hicks; "Design Guidelines for Historical Residential Districts of Mount Vernon, Texas"; and a cookbook, `Sweet' Heritage. These publications are richly illustrated with vintage photos and line drawings, and together they offer a detailed history of the town.
B.F. Hicks and Donna McFarland
at the old bank vault door
in the Library.

The historical society owns seven buildings around town, commercial and residential structures which now house a variety of museums, a library, a genealogical center, and headquarters for the historical society. One modest old house serves as a storage facility. The old city hall/fire house boasts large exhibits on Mount Vernon's most famous citizen, quarterback-actor-TV announcer Don Meredith. Upstairs there is a climate-controlled room which displays a valuable collection of rare bird's eggs. Perhaps most impressive, a block south of the square, is a sprawling 1894 railroad depot. 
Publications of the historical society
1894 depot

B.F. Hicks beside the 1894 Studebaker
wagon of his great-grandparents.
     In addition to the properties of the historical society, B.F. Hicks himself is a resourceful preservationist. For example, when the First Methodist Church moved to a modern plant, B.F. purchased the brick, two-story church that was erected in 1930. He was baptized in this church, and he has renovated it as a guest house, church museum, and kitchen - in which he regularly produces gourmet dishes. Behind the church is an abandoned 1941 high school. B.F. purchased the old band hall and turned it into his residence. Last year the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department honored B.F. as Outstanding Land Steward for his preservation of 925 acres of family land. Indeed, 120 acres always has been a hay meadow; this parcel has never been plowed, and more than 620 species of native plants have been identified. B.F. Hicks also is an energetic fundraiser, and the Franklin County Historical Society benefits from a trust fund totaling several hundred thousand dollars. 
One of several Don Meredith displays
in the old city hall 

Last Monday night was the coldest of the winter, 13 degrees in Mount Vernon, and there was concern that turnout would be light for the potluck supper/business meeting/program. But there had been extensive publicity, and extra chairs had to be brought to the tables. I had a grand time visiting with the historical society members. At the end of my program I received a standing ovation, a thrilling climax to the one of the most enjoyable days I've spent as State Historian. 

For more information:
Mount Vernon's Rosenwald school for
African-American students. Julius Rosenwald.
president of Sears, Roebuck, funded a
number of these schools.
Early home of pioneer Henry Clay Thruston 

Col. Thruston stood more than
7 feet, 7 inches, the tallest
veteran of the Civil War
Bill with Cynthia Loftis

Potluck dinner crowd

1 comment:

  1. One of the best presentations I have had the honor of attending. Very enlightening and entertaining, I look forward to an encore presentation in the future.