Wednesday, September 23, 2015


"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. 

Hillsboro is a picturesque and historic town that is well worth a visit by history buffs. My wife Karon and I pass through Hillsboro from time to time, and I can never resist at least driving by certain favorite sites.

Old County Jail, 1893
The splendid Hill County Court House opened in 1890 and it remains one of the finest examples of “Texas Court House Gothic” from the Victorian Era. There was a devastating electrical fire in 1993, and the interior damage was severe. But donations poured in from across Texas and from other states, as well as from abroad. Willie Nelson, whose home town of Abbott is only a few miles to the south, staged two fund-raising concerts. Today the restored structure looms magnificently above the Hillsboro square.

Old Rock Saloon, 1878
Just north of the square stands the Hill County Cell Block Museum. Housed in the two-story county jail built in 1893, the museum displays county history exhibits and Willie Nelson memorabilia. On the south side of the square stands a structure built in 1878 as the Old Rock Saloon. Nearby is the brick T.B. Bond Pharmacy, erected in 1881 and proclaimed as “Texas’ Oldest Pharmacy.” Indeed, throughout the downtown business district stand vintage commercial buildings.

Oldest pharmacy in Texas, 1881
The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center is headquartered in the handsome restored MKT “Katy” passenger depot. Originally placed between two sets of railroad tracks, the depot was designed with two front facades and, therefore, no back door. Inside I was greeted by Rachal Cox, Chamber Executive Assistant, and by Cleo Young Davis, a volunteer docent whose family roots trace back to the pre-Civil War beginnings of Hill County. I was escorted through the interior of the depot, which included meeting rooms and historical photos and artifacts. Rachal and Cleo were most helpful and cooperative, and they provided me with a rich collection of brochures.
Rachal Cox (left) and Cleo Young
Col. Harold B. Simpson, a professor of history at Hill College on the eastern edge of town, began a museum on campus in 1963. Colonel Simpson was a military historian who wrote the most complete biography of Audie Murphy. He sponsored an annual Civil War symposium and donated his impressive historical collections to the museum. The original Hill College Library has been converted to the Texas Heritage Museum, which I twice have utilized for book projects. The museum’s mission statement reads, “The Texas Heritage Museum’s mission is to explore Texas and Texans during wartime and how those experiences affect us today.”

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