Friday, January 31, 2014


"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.

Bill with Greg Laudadio
An invitation to address the Rotary Club of Palestine resulted in a lively day of local history for the State Historian. The  invitation came from Greg Laudadio, who heads a firm called Palestine Economic Development. Greg enthusiastically offered to arrange a tour of Palestine's historic sites, following the noon Rotary meeting. Since the 1970s I've driven through Palestine countless times. As often as possible I've driven through the Victorian neighborhood known as "Silk Stocking Row," and I've walked through the commercial district with its ornate old buildings. There are beautiful vintage churches, a 1914 Carnegie Library, an 1896 depot which continues to serve Palestine as a Visitor Information Center, and a magnificent courthouse which opened in 1914. A 1916 high school today houses the Museum for East Texas Culture; I've stopped there many times, not only to enjoy the exhibits but to tour an impressive school structure erected for an earlier age in education. 
Palestine Rotarians

So I came to Palestine armed with camera and notebook, eager for a tour with men and women who were willing to show me more about their fascinating town. At lunch the Rotarians were most cordial, and we enjoyed the hour together. After the meeting, Greg led the way to the Chamber of Commerce building. I met several community leaders, and with Greg behind the wheel, we drove through the streets of Palestine. I learned all manner of details about buildings I was familiar with, and I was shown historic structures I had never before seen. We drove through the lovely cemetery in the east part of town, and along the way I was regaled with background stories and anecdotes. I'll always be grateful to these Palestine historians for spending time with me.

Courthouse interior
Palestine was founded in 1846, as the seat of newly-formed Anderson County. A log courthouse was erected atop a hill, and a business square took shape. But in 1872 a railroad reached Palestine, building its tracks and shops on level ground a mile west of the hilltop courthouse square. New stores and hotels were built beside the tracks, and this district became known as "New Town," while the courthouse area was (and is) called "Old Town." Palestine experienced a heyday during the late 19th century, and the community boasts a wealth of Victorian structures. Indeed, Palestine can claim more buildings in the National Historic Registry than any other Texas city except Galveston. Palestine also is the western terminus of the Texas State Railroad. History buffs will enjoy themselves enormously in Palestine. 
For more information:

"New Town" commercial buildings faced the RR tracks.
The 1916 high school now house an excellent museum.

1 comment:

  1. It was an honor and a pleasure to have you here in Palestine, Bill. Your presentation at Rotary was most entertaining and informative. Thank you for the kind words about our great town! If you need a tour guide and/or chauffeur the next time you are in town, do not hesitate to give me a call.
    Best Regards,
    Greg Laudadio