Heritage Village Museum, Where History Comes alive
Tyler County Lifestyle, January, 1999
Part I, 1950 to 1970
By Deanna Tubb
Today Heritage Village serves as Tyler County's main tourist attraction. This working pioneer village has come a long way from its humble beginnings many years ago. A very creative fool by the name of Clyde Gray moved to Beaumont, Texas from somewhere "up North" where he had been a cartoonist. Upon relocating to Beaumont, Gray became a sailor and worked for a company called Sabine Towing.
The owner of Sabine Towing had a daughter named Lillian William Rice, but everyone just called her Bill. Bill was a reporter for a Port Arthur newspaper. This being the 1930's, a career girl was still somewhat of a rarity.
Somehow, the two became smitten and they married. After finishing out the 1930's and 1940's at Sabine, Clyde and Bill Gray moved to Woodville. As a new Tyler County resident, the Grays and a goat farm just down the road from the present site of Heritage Village. In the early 1950's, Clyde rekindled his interest in art and started to dabble in oil painting. The consensus was that he had some talent, so he decided to open an art gallery.
While preparing works for his soon to be opened gallery, Clyde put himself in the middle of U. S. Highway 190, surrounded by police barricades, and was sketching a few buildings for a painting. Another Tyler County resident, Jack Whitmeyer, was out running some errands that day and decided to go out into the street and heckle Clyde about sketching in the middle of the road.
The incident began a friendship between the two men that would last for decades.
Clyde and Bill managed to get the art gallery open. It was located at the top of a hill on Highway 190 West, just past the city limits. This building still stands and is presently being used for storage at Heritage Village.
While Clyde had his work space and some paintings inside, Bill planted a glower garden in the back of the building. While Clyde had his work space and some paintings inside, Bill planted a flower garden in the back of the building. While the men were talking business with Clyde, Bill would take the ladies out into the garden. The couple called their little complex Heritage Gardens.
The Grays wanted to turn the place into a tourist attraction and thought that a collection of unusual pieces may just do the trick. Some friends from their Sabine days helped the couple acquire a hugh ship's anchor. They mounted it on a concrete block and set it in the garden among the flowers. Then they started to gather things in earnest.
Around this time, a tile plant had opened in Woodville. Then plant made ceramic title, but only in white. One of the owners of the plant, B. J. Cardeman, approached Clyde because he thought the artist might know something about how to color the tiles.
Clyde had a friend from his cartooning days whose family business manufactured pigments for a variety of art applications. It was not long before Clyde was staining and painting tiled form the plant. He then came up with a process to make a transfer on to tile. This became very popular, especially with old photographs.
Clyde became known for his paintings. In these works, a picture is painted using many individual tiles as a canvas. These tile paintings sold like hot cakes and still hang in many East Texas home.
As the art gallery grew, so did the museum. Clyde acquired a rist mill, put a water wheel on it, and started to grind corn into cornmeal. In 1965, the Tolar family entered into an agreement with Clyde, allowing him use of the Tolar Cabin. This cabin is a pioneer home and was brought to Heritage Gardens from its original home in Hillister. The Tolar Cabin is still part of Heritage village.
After word got out about the Tolar Cabin and the tile paintings, Heritage Gardens became a bone fide tourist attraction. In fact, the highway department came to talk to Clyde. The department felt that the visitors to Heritage Gardens were creating a traffic problem, because of a lack of parking. Clyde then cut an entrance road and built a parking lot, both of which are still in use today.
In 1968, Clyde made another of his famous deals and acquired the old Midway school house. He had it moved to the Village, where it was first used as an entrance to the Village. A year later, still trying to increase the popularity of his place, Clyde moved the school to the edge of the parking lot and the Pickett House was born. The Pickett House has since become famous for its chicken and dumplings, served boarding house style.
In 1968, Clyde made another of his famous deals and acquired the old Midway school house. He had it moved to the Village, where it was first used as an entrance to the Village. A year later, still trying to increase the popularity of this place, Clyde moved the school to the edge of the parking lot and the Pickett House was born. The Pickett House has since become famous for its chicken and dumplings, served boarding house style.
The increasing popularity of the Pickett House prompted Clyde to make other changes. He built more buildings, each representing an integral part of a pioneer village. He had a barber shop, apothecary, and a jail among other buildings. Around 1870, Clyde decided that his new and improved attraction should be called Heritage Village. It was more appropriate, and besides, Bill had given up all that gardening.
The End of Part One