Monday, November 9, 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. 

The 1887 jail
While driving to a history conference in Houston, I turned off Highway 59 at Shepherd and drove 11 miles west to historic Coldspring, seat of San Jacinto County. During the 1840s a community began to develop in a low area where cold springwater was available. When a post office opened in 1847 the backwoods community was named Coonskin. The next year the name was changed to Fireman’s Hill, and in 1850 the little town was renamed Cold Spring. The spelling was changed to Coldspring in 1894.

With Amanda Woodson
Cold Spring became the county seat when San Jacinto County was organized in 1870. A court house was built in 1877 and a two-story brick jail opened in 1887. The court house burned in 1915, and a handsome brick replacement was built on a hill less than half a mile to the east. The town promptly moved uphill to a square that formed around the new court house, and today the only building that remains at the original 14-block townsite is the 1887 jail.

Amanda stands a few steps in front
of the second-floor hangman's drop.
The jail served its original purpose until 1980, when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it is the principal structure of the San Jacinto County Museum, housing numerous artifacts in the old jailer’s apartment on the first floor and in the cellblock area upstairs. Also upstairs is a hangman’s drop, typical of county jails of the era, although no executions were conducted in the San Jacinto County Jail.

Jackson General Store
Each Halloween season this historic building is converted into “The Old Haunted Jail” for a few nights as a fundraiser. I drove up on the afternoon of November 4, when a crew of volunteers was gathering to pack up the Halloween paraphernalia for another year. I introduced myself to some ladies, including Amanda Woodson, treasurer of the San Jacinto County Historical Commission. I explained that I’m the State Historian hoping to find material for my blog. Amanda enthusiastically toured me through the jail, providing a great deal of background information.
Waverly school
Back outside, Amanda described the adjacent cluster of log and frame buildings. These structures were collected from around the county and included: The Jackson General Store; a log corn crib from a nearby farm; the Urbana depot; the Camilla post office (built in 1922); and the Waverly two-room school (1926). My personal favorite was the school.

Volunteers open the 1887 jail for visitors on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. But at any time a history buff can park and walk among these structures from the past, with good views through windows into most of the interiors. The 1917 court house boasts a nice rotunda, and a majority of the buildings around the quaint square are single-story frame structures with false fronts. Although located a little off the beaten path, Coldspring is well worth a visit.
Corn crib
Urbana depot
Camilla post office

1917 San Jacinto Court House

The 2015 Christmas tree has just been
placed but not yet decorated in the
court house.

Court house rotunda from the second floor

For more information:
San Jacinto County Museum:

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