Saturday, December 6, 2014

Larry McNeill

"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. 

Tenaha Depot
1925 Tenaha championship basketball team
Old First Methodist Church

Dave McNeill Sr. and Jr. in front of drug store
Larry McNeill is a prominent Austin attorney whose long service to the Texas State Historical Association included a term as president in 2005-6. A major goal of President McNeill was to establish the office of State Historian of Texas. Utilizing his contacts and legal expertise, Larry maneuvered a bill through the Legislature which created a Texas State Historian. A key element in the statute was that the State Historian would be sworn in at the State Capitol, hopefully by the Governor. There are about 3,500 state appointees in a given year, and most swear and sign the oath of office before a notary public and mail it into the Texas Secretary of State. Thus the swearing-in ceremony for the State Historian at the Capitol was a special element inserted by Larry into the statute. The State Historian enjoys a two-year term. 

Drug store interior
Larry was raised and schooled in Houston, where his father, Dave McNeill, Jr., was an attorney. But Larry’s parents, Dave and Lois Parker McNeill, both grew up in Tenaha in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Founded as a railroad town in 1885, Tenaha was named after Tenehaw Municipality, which became Shelby County. Within a decade of its founding, Tenaha boasted a population of nearly 700, a score of businesses, three churches, and a school. During the 20th century Larry’s paternal grandfather, Dave McNeill, Sr., owned and operated a drug store in a long brick building on the east side of the town square. As mayor of Tenaha, in 1942 McNeill was responsible for the installation of the city water system. In the rear of the drug store, Dr. James M. Parker operated his medical office. Two blocks south of the square, the McNeills and the Parkers lived in Victorian houses across Center Street from each other. 
Dave McNeill, Sr., in his buggy

Dr. James Parker
Larry and his older brother Dave spent more than half of each summer in Tenaha. Larry attended movies at the Queen Theater, two doors north of the drug store. Summer visits also included trips to the farm properties owned by the two families. Larry became steeped in the family lore in and around Tenaha, and fascinated by the history of the little town. 

Dave and Frances McNeill

Anna Baldwin Parker
The population of Tenaha stabilized at just over 1,000 and a modern school plant has been built. But like so many other small towns, Tenaha’s business section has dwindled and deteriorated. The Queen Theater and the other two commercial buildings north of the McNeill drug store have been razed, and three decades ago the handsome Parker home, built in 1905, was destroyed by fire.

Larry's parents -
Dave and Lois McNeill
But Larry McNeill has done his part to maintain the heritage of Tenaha, home town of his parents, both sets of grandparents, and numerous other ancestors. The old drug store, long vacant, has been restored during the past year by Larry. Advertising signs from the 1930s and 1940s prime of the business have been applied to windows. Amid a deteriorating downtown square, the old drug store looks ready for business. Three decade ago Larry’s mother renovated the 1903 McNeill home, shortly after the 1905 Parker home burned. Larry recently donated land north of the drug store that will become part of a downtown city park. 

One of Tex Ritter's biggest hits -
"Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair"
Larry and I climbed into his four-wheel drive vehicle to tour the wooded parcels of family land that he now owns or partially owns. It was a terrific field trip through rugged countryside that includes spring-fed Parker Lake. On one of his parcels, several miles outside Tenaha, Larry and his wife Rose are building a hilltop retirement home, to be called “MacRose.” The house has been framed, and so has the library, a separate two-story facility which will house Larry’s vast book collection, as well as a large office. A dumb waiter will hoist books up or down, and there will be a reading area on the second floor. This library will excite envy among book-lovers, and Larry – who is in the process of closing out his Austin law practice – is eager to re-settle the region of his family heritage. 
Larry at the 1903 McNeill home
Larry's Library
Larry on the second floor of his
library  for the first time
Bill at Parker Lake
Larry at the restored drug store

No comments:

Post a Comment