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Henderson County, Texas
Historical Commission
PO Box 1412
Athens, Texas 75751

Current Hours:  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.



September 30, 2011
by Peggy Smith

October is designated each year as Archeology Month by the Texas Historical Commission. Often when we hear the word archeology, we associate it with digging methodically in sands of some foreign country. I must say that it used to bore me when I saw articles talking of the hours spent painstakingly digging small pieces of bone or pottery, etc... Archeology, as defined by Webster's New World Dictionary as “the study of the life of ancient peoples, as by excavation of ancient cities, etc...”. Now that in itself didn't entice me, but as I matured I began to research my family history. Curiosity provoked me to research what their lives were like. Though curiosity didn't do much for the cat, it has given me many discoveries in my own family.

The Texas Historical Commission has dedicated itself to preserving the rich history of our enormous state. It is a daunting task, but historians love to preserve history and are always looking for new sources of evidence. Archeologists are trained to examine evidence and put it in a framework in history.

We all have treasures that are priceless to us. Uncle George's pocket watch that came through the civil war, Aunt Ida's pearls that were sold three times to buy supplies but recovered each time, or the old deed that Great Grandpa kept when his grandparents bought the farm he still lives on. What stories we hold. What memories to pass on to our children.

There are so many stories that need to be told. There are many discoveries that still need to be made. This is why the Texas Historical Commission celebrates Archeology Month.

One story is the history of the Henderson County Jail. Henderson County came into existence in 1846, carved out of Nacogdoches County. It was named after the first Texas Governor James Pickney Henderson. The town of Buffalo was chosen as the county seat. This town was located on the Trinity River but only survived four years before the county seat was moved to Athens. During this time the county gave land for three other counties in the northern part of the county. In 1850 Kaufman and Van Zandt counties were carved from Henderson. The town of Athens was laid out and the County Commissioners began talking about a jail. The first courthouse was a log cabin built in late 1850 and in 1851, Commissioners ordered that J.B. Luker be appointed to draft a plan. It is supposed to have been finished by 1856-7. A new jail was built in 1874 and the old one was referred to as the “Log Calaboose”. It has been said that if a prisoner wanted to escape the old log calaboose it would be very easy, but few did. The new jail, which was built in front of the old one, serviced the county until a fire broke out in the Masonic hall on November 1, 1897. It burned every structure on the block including the jail.

In the November 1897 Commissioner's Court minutes it was ordered to take four lots for the new site of the County Jail on what is now Larkin Street. It was completed in 1898.

October 7, 2011
by Peggy Smith

Don't you just get so excited when you hear someone talking about the old family cemetery or get-togethers where they clean and repair cemeteries? As a young person I just thought those people needed to get a life. Now, I get excited when we get a few people together to go traipsing through cemeteries looking for relatives and famous individuals in the area. I grab my camera, pencil and paper, and water bottle.

Cemeteries are a necessity in life and many times they sit beside a church. When pioneers began to come to East Texas, they brought their faith and sometimes a preacher. This land was still untamed and settlements were far apart. Many came as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Christian Church, and putting up a building for each small group was not something to be afforded. Many times different groups would meet in the same building but on different Sundays. Weddings and funerals were held at the church and the building was also used during the week for “schooling” young children.

Most church and cemetery land was donated by a leader in the church or a prominent person in the community that could afford to deed an acre or two as a meeting place and a place of rest for their loved ones. Some cemeteries were a corner marked off in family land and many of these have been lost to underbrush, stock roaming, and vandalism.

Before Texas was even a state, people were trying plant churches here. It was known that if you were to receive land you must become Catholic. This was in our agreement with Mexico. Missions were dotted all around Texas with small cemeteries. So many of these are gone now but the Texas Historical Commission is trying to find and preserve all cemeteries in the state.

Some cemeteries that have historical significance are the Foster Cemetery just inside Anderson County. It was named for William Foster who owned land there. His name was also given to the Masonic Lodge. This cemetery is also known as the first burial place of Cynthia Ann Parker. Her story is a tragic one. Her grandfather Daniel Parker brought a Baptist group to Texas in 1833. They were known as two-seed Baptist. That is another story. Cynthia Ann's body was exhumed by people in the area at the request of her son Quanah Parker and taken to Oklahoma where it was laid to rest with remains of her daughter Prairie Flower who was buried just inside Van Zandt County in the Asbury Cemetery.

Brownsboro there is the Norwegian Cemetery. The oldest grave there is Julie Tergerson dated 1871. The pioneers from Norway were instrumental in building Brownsboro. John Brown (Red) who was a Judge of Henderson was another who helped to build the town and is given credit for having the town named after him, though there will always be some controversy there. John Brown was buried in Athens. It is supposed to have been where the new stadium is now and his remains moved to the Athens Cemetery. Senator J. J. Faulk is also buried in the Athens Cemetery.

Judge Samuel Tine Owen was buried in the Davis Cemetery in 1856. He has many descendants in Henderson County.

The Jackson Prairie Cemetery was south of Cedar Creek Spillway but cannot be found now because it wasn't protected from roaming livestock and vandalism. It is said some of the stones there were taken to block up houses or make steps.

The oldest grave I have found so far is in the King Cemetery, also known as the Aley Cemetery. Little Texana Gardner died at the age of 4 in 1852. Elizabeth Smith has been enumerated in the Smith Cemetery with a death of 1850 but is only marked with a stone.

Many pioneers are buried in the Dabbs Cemetery in Anderson County and in Cherokee County the Killough Monument tells a sad tale of the massacre of the Killough, Wood, and Williams families in 1838.

Many of these tombstones are a wealth of information. They tell names of loved ones and sometimes even nicknames. Birth and death dates and sometimes even marriage dates. They sometimes tell organizations family belonged to such as the Masonic Lodge or Woodmen of the World. They may have loving phrases such as “here lies our little Angel” or, as the tombstone of Samuel Wylie in Foster Cemetery-”In Memory of Pap and Mother lie here together side by side.” In Asbury Cemetery is Jarushie, wife of S. M. Jackson. Her tombstone reads “Rest Mother Rest In Quiet Sleep, While Friends In Sorrow O'r Thee Weep.”

These are just a few of many, many hidden treasures you can find with an afternoon stroll through a nearby cemetery. Check with the Henderson County Historical Commission for Cemeteries in the area and transcriptions that have already been done. It can direct you to your loved one. But I enjoy a stroll through a cemetery and have taken my mother with me on many walks. Just remember to watch for fire ants and grassburs; they like cemeteries also.

October 14, 2011
by Peggy Smith

Not too many places in town had more traffic that the Country Store. There seems to always have been a bench or chairs just outside where many tales were born and some of them even true. Sometimes it was where the “spit and whittle” group met to carve whatever object might be hidden in a block of wood while discussing crops, family, and politics. Store owners might join the conversation once customers were gone and the shelves had been stocked. Stores might be listed as dry goods, while others listed as grocery stores. They sometimes housed the town drug store in the back or even a barber shop. Probably the only place that saw more traffic in the early days of East Texas was the saloon.

The business that stands out in my mind in Anderson County was Ellis Mercantile in Frankston. It was on the corner of Main Street and Hwy 155 and whatever it was that you were needing at the time, Mr. Ellis usually had it and could go right to it. Visitors to the city always had to take a stroll through the store. I never saw so much in one store. J. Louie Burks bought A. F. Shepherd's Hardware store in 1926 and his son Johnny still owns the store. Jesse Smith was the first grocery store I remember, but before he had the business M.A. Cook had a grocery store there. Back in the late 1800's my 2nd great grandfather was John Wesley Ramsey. He and his wife lived in the Sandflat community and their store was in their front yard. They had fresh produce (whatever was in season), material, and hardware.

Just up the road in Henderson County was a community called Fincastle in the mid eighteen hundreds. It was a booming community until the T & N O went through south of HWY 175. They had several stores in their short history. Crawford and Gilliland started a mercantile that was closed during the civil war. Wofford and Miller took over the business and was very successful. Adams and Chambers had another store there. Adams, Chambers and Wofford each kept 4 mule teams on the road bringing in supplies for the businesses.

Once the T & N O railroad came through in the early 1900's people moved from Fincastle to Poynor or Athens. There had been a community south of the new town of Poynor called Fosterville. It was also a thriving community in the 1800's with a general store, mills and a school. But the railroad changed things and Poynor grew. General stores and Mercantile businesses by Julius Wylie, Byron Milner and W. H. Foster supplied the ever-growing community. The old bank building on the corner saw several businesses ending with the Hanna's losing it to a fire in the mid 1990's.

In Athens, J.R. Gauntt bought prime property on Prairieville Street in the early 1890's. He operated a mercantile store with his brother R.L. Gauntt. In 1896 he had the two-story brick structure built. Tom Barber had a grocery store downstairs and upstairs housed the law offices of cousins J.J. Faulk and W.L. Faulk. The building now houses the Henderson County Historical Museum.

In 1898, in Old Brownsborough, Perry Lee Holiman bought a general merchandise store from John Wyatt and Isaac Simmons. When the railroad came through, Brownsboro moved to it and Mr. Holiman built a new building. The business went through many changes, being rebuilt in 1926 by son A.D. Holiman. I have left out a wealth of history but it is owned and operated by Dusty Wise now. It makes me smile each time I roll my grocery cart over the wooden floor that has been preserved.

In Malakoff a prominent citizen named Dan Gentry started a mercantile business in 1910. The town began as Caney Creek, but changed it's name to Mitchum Chapel in 1852. It became Malakoff in 1885 and it had many businesses, including several general stores.

Chandler began it's history with mercantile stores owned by C. M. Hughes and son, R. M. chandler, and George M. Hughes. By the 1920's were businesses of Parker and Dingler, Ellis Brothers, Tom Terrell in the grocery, and even Chandler Drug Store.

There are so many others of importance and too many to name here. Communities of Baxter, Larue, New York, Goshen, Trinidad, etc. They all played an important role in supplying the people with goods and groceries needed for everyday life. Some ledgers are still found every now and then and they give us insight to days gone by.

The Country Doctor
October 20, 2011
by Peggy Smith

I thought I would wrap up archeology month with the country doctor. The Henderson County Historical Museum in Athens houses several artifacts that have been found pertaining to medicine. In the course of history medicine has evolved greatly from blood-letting and surgery without anesthesia often until the end of the 19th century. Examinations included a general observation of the body, using the stethoscope or the analysis of blood. Other treatments included diet instructions, rest, baths, massage, blistering specific areas of the body, sweating, hand mixed medicines, or a host of creams. Surgery was done in someone home, a doctor's office (if he was lucky enough to have one) or in a hospital in large cities. These hospitals didn't have the best sanitary conditions either. Risk of infection from surgery or asphyxiation from chloroform was high.

A doctor generally rode out on his horse or buggy to treat patients. They could check on the whole family while there since it was a long ride to each home in the country. Many people did not have money to pay the doctor so they would compensate him with something they had made, grown, or some service the doctor might need himself.

The doctor must have the knowledge of mixing drugs together. He mixed liquids and powders. He would put the powders in a small rolled up paper or envelope and give instructions like any druggist of today.
The Apothecary was considered a doctor early in the century since they treated ailments as well as mixing potions. The Apothecary sometimes grew their own plants and a "secret formula" often included alcohol.
The Drug Store was rare in the country but with towns and cities popping up by the railroad they began showing up in the back of grocery stores, in with the doctor's medical practice, or sometimes in a larger town as an individual store. Stores in the area included the Stirman Drug Store in Athens, H. L. Flagg and Allen & Hoover in Malakoff, Stuart & Gray in Chandler, A. J. Cook in Eustace, W. A. Palmer in Larue, E.F. Huddle in Murchison, The Rose Drug Store in Poynor, The Burtis Drug
Store in Frankston.

Many doctors came to our fine republic before it even was one. Alexander W. Ewing, Thomas R. Erwin and Jack Shackelford were here before 1836. Anderson and Henderson Counties split off from Houston and Nacogdoches Counties and attracted more doctors.

In the Fincastle community was Dr. S.E. Campbell and Dr. B.P. Adams. They cured ills all over the area and had a combination doctor's office and drug store when the town was booming in the mid 1800's. In the Baxter community was Dr. William Richardson. In New York there was Dr. T.H. Hall, Sr. Just down the road in Larue, where the railroad came through, was Dr. B.C. Wallace and Dr. W.E. Campbell. I have been told that Dr. Wallace delivered my mother and her brothers. Murchison gave us

Dr. E.F. Huddle and Z.N. Thornton. If you remember E.F. Huddle also had the drug store there. Dr. D.O. Jeter practiced for a while in Kaufman, but then moved to Murchison for the remainder of his career. Malakoff had J.K. Webster, J.L. Evans and J.F. Merritt.

Two sons of William Foster Moss became doctors. They lived in Fosterville, practiced medicine there and in Poynor before moving. G.H. Moss moved to Frankston and practiced medicine, loving the community and is given credit for performing the first appendectomy in Anderson County on his front porch. Wow! M.M. Moss married Malena Milner and moved to Brownsboro where he lived and died. The story is that he came home from taking care of someone and never got back up.
Dr. M.A. King practiced medicine in Poynor before going to Frankston. He practiced above the drug store in Frankston before moving to Hwy 175 and then to his office on Main Street. He gave more bottles of pink medicine than you could count. We hated it but it sure worked. Dr. Ayres also practiced in Frankston. He came from Tennessee by way of Mississippi.

In Chandler we have Dr. R.L. Belcher, Dr. A.T. Bryant and R.L. Gray. R.L. Gray practiced medicine in the Stuart & Gray Drug Store. In Brownsboro Dr. S.H. Dickerson, Dr. Bud Wells and Dr. Arthur Horton practiced medicine. Dr. Wells began his practice in the Shady Grove area, moved to Murchison and then to Brownsboro. His cousin Arthur Horton moved to the Brownsboro area and made a name for himself helping as a county health doctor. He volunteered in the New London disaster.

Athens had many doctors settle there since it was the county seat. Dr. W.C. Larkin was among the first. His son Dr. Percy Larkin was well loved by the community. Dr. J.K. Webster came to Texas with his parents in 1871 and he eventually settled in Athens. Dr. A.H. Easterling was another who found his home in Athens. There are too many others to name.

The country doctor was loved or hated but always overworked because he had such a large area to cover to serve his patients. Many lived modest lives because people didn't have much money to pay for services, but the country doctor always had food to eat and help with whatever needed to be repaired at home. I hope you will visit the museum on Prairieville Street in Athens. Curator Sarah Brown will welcome you and show you many treasures from our past.

Peggy Smith, Henderson County Historical Commission

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