Saturday, May 10, 2014

First Week in May

"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.

Dr. Powell addressing the crowd

On Wednesday morning, May 7, it was my deep pleasure to attend a groundbreaking ceremony on the campus of Panola College. Panola County Junior College opened in Carthage in January 1948 in temporary buildings. Later in the year a $400,000 bond issue was approved to construct an administration building and a gymnasium. Through the general fund and grants other buildings were erected in later years, but 65 years passed without another bond issue. At last, in 2013, Panola President Gregory Powell and members of the Board of Trustees campaigned effectively for a $35 million bond issue, which passed by a virtually unprecedented 84 percent vote. Two major buildings will be constructed simultaneously, after which existing buildings will be renovated. Wednesday morning Dr. Powell spoke to a large crowd, after which he and board members donned hard hats and, armed with spades, broke ground to enthusiastic applause. Refreshments were served and there was excited conversation. In my case, excitement was triggered because I have been affiliated with the college for 44 years, and this is our first bond issue during my tenure.

History Club of East Texas
The History Club of East Texas began as a Civil War Round Table in Kilgore. After a few years the group decided to move to Longview and to broaden the topics beyond the Civil War. I spoke occasionally in Kilgore, and with the move to Longview I joined this club of kindred spirits. For years I provided the November program, while pinch-hitting in other months if needed. A few years ago I began providing the September program to lead off the club year. Monthly meetings are held at Jason's Deli in Longview, and for the final meeting of 2013-2014 I titled my address: "American Exceptionalism and Today's Historical Amnesia." There was a nice crowd of history buffs, and as always they were gracious and receptive. Ed Rast volunteered to serve as president of the club in 2014-15, and we all look forward to another year.

Two days later Karon and I drove 12 miles south of Carthage to a rural community that was called, in its heyday,Woods Post Office. Even though the post office has been closed since 1906, locals still say "Woods Post Office," rather than Woods. Woods began to take shape in the early 1850s, and a post office was established in 1854. Two churches were organized in the 1850s, and today both Baptist and Methodist congregations still meet in venerable buildings. By the 1880s there were three general stores, two blacksmiths, a steam sawmill, a school, and an estimated population of 50, with many more people on nearby farms. Decline set in by the 20th century. The post office closed, the school consolidated with the Carthage ISD after World War II,  and the population dropped off to no more than 30. But the Woods Cemetery Association continues a faithful stewardship to their community heritage. The cemetery is located behind the First Methodist Church, built in the 1870s and handsomely maintained. Association members filled the historic church, singing hymns of an earlier time and conducting a business meeting in which the impressively sound finances of the organization were discussed.  Larry McNeill, former President of the Texas State Historical Association, has deep family roots in Woods. Larry was responsible for creation of the office of State Historian, and he asked me to speak at the annual meeting at Woods. After Larry introduced me I took the opportunity to acknowledge his role regarding the office of Texas State Historian by making appropriate remarks and by presenting him a certificate of appreciation. Following my program there was a prayer and we moved outside for a superb dinner on the grounds. I am long familiar with Woods Post Office and with most of the people in attendance. Indeed, I had taught many of them at Panola College through the years and I greatly enjoyed fellowshipping with them.
Woods Methodist Church

Baptist Church

Business meeting
John Ben Williams, accompanied by wife Mary,
provides special music.
Larry McNeill receiving Certificate of Appreciation
Dinner on the grounds

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