Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Friday, January 27, 2012

Elvis has not left the building

My colleague and I had to go to Tupelo yesterday for our curriculum grant.  As one of my other colleagues there put it, "You had to spend the whole day here for 15 minute clips?"  Yes.  We had to go in at the beginning of 6 classes, do our 15 minutes of explanation of the research study, give the consent forms and pre-tests--which took about 2 minutes to complete.  Then, wait an hour for the next class.  However, we had time to work on other projects in between, discuss various aspects of the program, I met with a student with whom I am doing a directed study this semester, and best of all, I got to have lunch at the cool little downtown bistro 212 with two of my colleagues.  Imagine this: smoked turkey, smoked gouda, cranberry relish, apple slices, mayo-dijon, all grilled on a croissant.  It was an incredible blend of sweet and tangy and smoky flavors all melded together.

Elvis had dropped by the campus to help some students in the Writing Center.  Now personally, I think he was a bit overdressed for college, but then, it is Elvis.  A guy who went to a gig in 1955 wearing orange pants and a lilac shirt is definitely a little over the top.  As Pete and I were leaving, he swung by Elvis' house, which is just down from the campus.  They are preparing to make some additions to the museum, but I don't know what they are at this time.  It was very quiet and deserted looking, as it typically is this time of the year, at least in mid-week.

We got back to campus--after driving through a thunderstorm--just in time for me to make my 4:30 meeting in the dean's office.  The meeting was scheduled for 4:30-5:00.  At 6:00, Randy finally gave up waiting for me to finish (we are down to one vehicle this week) and went to get gas and go to the pharmacy.  Of course, that is when I finished, and it was dark, cold, raining, and I was 2 blocks from my office.  My friend who was also at the meeting generously drove me to the pharmacy to meet Randy.  It is good to have generous people in your life, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What $4000 looks like in Mississippi: Beautiful

WARNING: I am going to be talking about septic tanks, human waste, and sewage.  While it is not graphic, it is a topic some folks don't want to acknowledge: people have snot in their noses, and have to expel bodily wastes of urine and feces.  It all has to go somewhere.

I know--doesn't look like much, does it?  Just last week this was a lush green lawn, albeit one with a dog trail running through it where Rex the GSD runs the perimeter about 12 times a day.  My new best friends, Freeman Jetting Service, just finished installing our new water treatment system.  For the uninitiated, in a rural area, that is way above the level of a septic tank.  A water treatment system is similar to a septic tank system only it works like a city's water treatment system.  It has 3 tanks, not 1, and an aerator to pump oxygen into the tanks.  Basically, that means the water that flows out the lateral lines is cleaner.  I'm hoping the key word here is "flows."
Now, I know I am no expert on this sort of thing, even though I grew up in the "country" and know plenty about outhouses, cesspools, leach fields, and septic tanks.  (I am talking the literal country, not the semi-country of today where folks live a few miles from town or city and have the inconvenience of a septic system but act like they are on city sewage.)  Long before you had the business of people who came out with a big truck and vacuumed out the septic tank, the only way to clean it out was...yep, open it up and clean it out.  I recall my dad doing that once---I imagine at that moment he was wondering why he married and had 3 kids, and why someone decided that cleaning out a cesspool was men's work.  

Rand had to install a "gate" in the section of fence near where they needed to bring the equipment, and they told him it was a superb job.  True, he hinged it, added two locks at top and bottom, and was probably thinking the whole time "who decided this is men's work."  Given that I was in Mound Bayou with my class, picking up glass, trash, and ceiling tile...along with sleeping on an air mattress and channeling summer camp with communal showers and bathrooms...he does not have my sympathies.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Breckenridge High School

 This modern building was built sometime after 1959.

 Concrete screenblocks--for that relentless West Texas sun.
 The sports team is the Buckaroos.  A buckaroo was one of three distinctive mounted herders in North America.  I know one would not necessarily expect this statue to be historically accurate, but frankly, it isn't even close.  One of Lawrence Clayton's last books (Vaqueros, Cowboys, and Buckaroos, 2001, with Hoy and Underwood) describes the differences "in terms of working methods, gear, dress, customs and speech."  The Buckaroos are found west of the Rockies, toward the north.  They trace their origins to the vaqueros, with some influence from the cowboys.  Based on their descriptions, here's how you know this is not a buckaroo:
Gear: the saddle had a 4 inch horn, wrapped in hide, in order to dally the rope around it; it only had one cinch, in the front, not two; saddle had a high fork and cantle, not flat; saddle was decorated ornately with "hoss jewelry" and sat on a Navajo blanket; used a single rein, not a double; stirrups were bell-shaped or oxbow, often ornamental, and covered with tapaderos--a leather covering over the front of the stirrup with flaps that extended 28 inches or more below the stirrup.
 Dress: chaps were knee length, not full length; boots were high heel, not flat; hat (hard to tell in the photo, but you can see this is a rolled brim) was flat crowned and flat brimmed; wore a "dress, suit-style" vest with a silk back and buttoned front, and a kerchief.
Although this is not the auditorium in which he performed, the April 14, 1955 Breckenridge American reported of Elvis Presley:
In a pink Cadillac he blew into town and appeared before a near capacity crowd of teenagers and adults at the Breckenridge High School Auditorium Wednesday night.
As usual, "girls swooned" and their boyfriends complained.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Municipal Building: Breckenridge, Texas

 The Municipal Building was erected in 1922, during the oil boom.  With the discovery of oil came a population explosion, from 1500 to over 20,000 in two years.  There are two bays located at the rear of the building (which currently houses the Fire Department) and since they appear to be original to the building, it leads me to speculate that was the original purpose of the building.  I cannot think of any other reason a building would need large bays in which to park trucks.

An early black and white photo illustrates the windows were originally 8 over 8 design, and the yellow brick under the two front windows was the same brick as the rest of the building.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Swenson Museum, formerly First National Bank of Breckenridge

The First National Bank of Breckenridge was organized in 1904; they moved into this building on its completion in 1920.  Per the Texas Historic Marker, this is a Beaux Arts Classical Revival structure.  Barely visible to the left in the photo is the metal framing for what once was a covered stairway to the upper floor.
I presume these iron bars are from the time the building was a bank.  First National remained in the building until 1972.  The history of the museum is pretty fascinating, based on a lawsuit filed by the two Swenson sisters in the 70s.  The Swenson family was fairly prosperous in terms of land and mineral holdings and had been in the Breckenridge area for 90 years.  The sisters, Clara J. and Alma B. Swenson, were both school teachers and never married.  Their brother, S. T., managed the inheritance.  The short version of the story is S. T. persuaded the sisters to contribute a good deal of the money from the estate to establishing a museum related to the pioneer days of the area.  However, after several donations in excess of $50,000 a pop, the sisters decided they did not understand that they were actually signing checks to give money to the museum, nor understand they were deeding away their ranch land and mineral rights, and asked for it back, stating it wiped out all of their assets.

The results are a little murky to me, but there was no evidence presented that the sisters had been unduly pressured or misled, or that they were mentally incompetent to execute such gifts.  I found one of the most interesting things about the episode to be the reference to the sisters as "the girls" in the legal documents filed.  "The girls" at the time of the suit were in their 80s.
I love the "bracketed architecture" over the doorway and the embedded clock!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baptist Churches: Throckmorton, Elbert, Eliasville

 First Baptist Church, Throckmorton, is built with the same limestone as most of the older buildings in the town.  While I am certain there are archives somewhere about this building, they are not readily available online.  Wouldn't it be great if all buildings had a sign out front providing information about the origins, even if it is not listed on some historic register?
 Assuming this is accurate, given the similarity to the stone design and construction dates of other buildings in Throckmorton, this church was built in 1925.
I like the design and color of the windows.  They are relatively simple, rather like the austerity of the building.
 As mentioned yesterday, as a child I thought the Elbert Baptist Church was so grand in comparison to the Methodist Church.  The majority of the area are Baptists (71%).  I was always intrigued as a child by the baptistries in these churches, too.  Most had some type of mural painted on the wall behind the baptistry.
 This church was built the year I was born, and I attended Vacation Bible School here a few times also.  The Cecil Rogers listed on the building committee was my grandfather's brother.

 This Eliasville Baptist Church building was built in 1941.  Like most of the buildings in small rural communities, there is no digital information I can locate.
 The building has not been in use for a considerable amount of time now.
 I surmise that the stone carved July 4, 1917 came from an earlier Baptist Church.  My long-time friend whose family helped establish Eliasville did not recall ever having seen the cornerstone, though an early relative is listed on the building committee.
This building was formerly the Presbyterian Church, but was most recently used as the Baptist church.

The variety of building styles in small communities--ranging from grand to the simplest of structures--always brings more questions than answers.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's Sunday: Let's go to church

 The Newcastle Methodist Church was established in 1908 in the lumberyard.  Sometime during the 1940s, this building was constructed.  Dad said it was first wood, and in later years was stuccoed.  Rufe Helm, a local man, was instrumental in the building of the church.  It appears to be built in a Spanish Colonial Revival or Mission Revival style, evidenced by the plaster/stucco finish, flat roof, arches, and the thick, building-long exterior arcade on the front.  The church has been altered to have only one front door, and the addition of the stained glass window to the right.  The original building (the one in which I was baptized as a child and attended Sunday School) had two front doors.  I do not recall any windows on the front of the church, though there may have been some.  The original stained glass were also typical of the era, depicting various Biblical scenes.
 My dad was the Sunday School Superintendent and when it was time for Sunday School to dismiss, he would tap the piano keys a few times to signal dismissal for church.  We moved from Newcastle when I was 7, but summers with my Grandma meant back here for Vacation Bible School and Sunday School.  I recall one year that the project in VBS was making a rooster by gluing seeds, corn, and beans onto a board with a rooster pattern on it.  One night after we went home, my sister and I awoke in the middle of the night to a noise.  A mouse was happily gnawing on the corn on the rooster plaque, and the next morning, our rooster was minus quite a few tail feathers.  The Proffitt Methodist Church, a long slender wooden building, was moved into Newcastle and serves as the Fellowship Hall.  It is unrecognizable with its metal siding.
 In neighboring Throckmorton County, the Throckmorton Methodist Church evidences something of a Moroccan style.  It is a very elegant building, albeit, one about which I can find nothing.  It was built in 1929 according to the date over the front doors.  The cornerstone indicates the architect was William C. Meador and the building contractor was E. A. Birchitt.
The Elbert Methodist Church:  11% of the population in the area are adherents to the Methodist faith.  Given that the total population of Elbert is only slightly over 100 these days, that translates to not very many possible members.  I was always fascinated by those blue windows as a child.  I don't recall every attending services here, since Mama and Papa were Baptists.  We did go to a few revivals that were held in the open-walled tabernacle next door.  I think the wooden entrance hall was added some years later, and I do not recall it as a child.  I always thought it interesting that the Methodist Church was so plain, compared to the Baptist Church next door. I'll be posting the area Baptist Churches tomorrow.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


 Pre-refrigeration days, ice houses, ice wagons, and buying ice was common place.  The ice wagon would travel around the neighborhood, even in rural areas, selling blocks of ice for the ice box--the precursor to refrigerators.  This old ice house is in Albany, Texas.  Note the ice chute door midway in the building?
 Ice was manufactured inside, and then either dropped down the chute for a small block of ice, or if larger pieces were needed, access was obtained through the doors.
 This photo is from the Historic American Buildings Survey, and provides an excellent example of ice storage after the freezing process.

The building is currently used as a restaurant, named "The Icehouse."  This Spanish-style architecture was popular in many areas of West Texas--which is strongly influenced by its Spanish and Mexican heritage.  Many years ago, my friends took me to this restaurant for my birthday.  One friend asked "What kind of wine do you have?"  The waitress replied in the slow Texas twang: Ray-ed or Why-ett.  On a later visit--thinking we were seasoned veterans--we asked for "red wine."  The waitress responds: What kind of ray-ed?  We got merlot and cabernet.  Nothing like making the big time in West Texas small towns.

And yes, I remember as a child going to Bailey's ice house in Newcastle, and getting a block of ice.  It would make a big "thump" sound when it came down the chute and hit the door.  Dad would use an ice pick to chip it up, usually for making homemade ice cream.  If you have never done it, chipping ice is a slow and tedious process!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Whitney Theatres in Albany: The Ritz and The Aztec

 Frank Whitney built the Aztec Theatre in 1927 as a counterpart to his Ritz Theatre up the street.  According to the Albany News, June 24, 1927, it was "to be a stucco building of Spanish design...will feature western pictures and the Ritz will show only the very latest and best pictures on the market."  The Aztec was originally built as a "working class" theatre.  It became a community center after extensive renovation in 1939 by Mr. Leon, who owned a chain of theaters (The Leon) across the region in Texas.  Leon bought the Aztec after Whitney's death.  He changed the interior to the West Texas vernacular version of a Spanish courtyard, complete with clouds and twinkling stars overhead.

 The "city cousin" to the Aztec was the Ritz, now known as the Whitney.  It currently sees use for dance and musical productions, as well as serves as a popular wedding venue for area brides.
Albany does have a terrific downtown and they apparently have worked hard to keep it vital.  It was thriving in 2003 when I left Texas, and shows all the signs of continuing to do so, unlike many of the downtowns in nearby towns that took a nosedive with the economic downturns of the last several years. I suspect one of the reasons is the diverse character of Albany downtown.  Rather than sink all their efforts into one focus (such as Baird downtown and its antique stores--most of which have closed), Albany has maintained much of the character of an actual downtown that meets the needs of its citizens as well as brings in tourists.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back to Texas and 50s service stations

 It's time for a little nostalgia break after a week of work in Mound Bayou with the students!  On my recent December trip through several Texas counties, I noticed that the old Gulf service station in Albany has been restored.  This station sits on the corner of the road from Throckmorton and Seymour--a road I traveled many times as a child.  The pumps in the center of the island were for kerosene.
 These pumps worked on a gravity system, and I remember my grandmother getting gas from this type of pump at the service station in Elbert.
 My cousins lived in Abilene and we lived in Seymour, so we often made a pit stop in Albany on our way to and from Seymour to see family in Abilene.  The Gulf Oil Corporation was named for its location on the Gulf of Mexico, Port Arthur, Texas.  The company that would eventually be named Gulf Oil in 1907 was founded by the Mellon banking business of Pennsylvania after oils was discovered at Spindletop near Beaumont.  One of their mid-60s No-Nox gasoline promotions featured a horse kicking, leaving two horseshoe imprints, and the company gave away adhesive orange plastic horseshoes as a promotional gimmick.  I once saw a car with two of the horseshoes affixed to a dent in their fender panel.
 Also in Albany is the restored Sinclair station on main street, heading toward Abilene.  Sinclair was founded in New York in 1916 by Harry F. Sinclair.  Our first "courtesy card" was for Sinclair when my parents traded at the station in Seymour.  Sinclair's distinctive dinosaur logo was added after the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34.  Sinclair sponsored a dinosaur exhibit, linking the petroleum industry to dinosaurs, and it was so popular that the company began a toy dinosaur promotional give-away and added the dinosaur silhouette to the sign.
This station features a southwestern spanish design that was very common in the Texas-New Mexico area where I grew up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Our Last Night in Mound Bayou

Photo courtesy Glenn Sudduth
It has been a busy week here for the class, and though we have enjoyed our stay immensely, we are feeling the tired and everyone is getting anxious to go home.  We have been busy pretty much non-stop most of the time since our arrival.  This morning, most of the students went up to the Delta Boutique, located in the St. Gabriel Mercy Center, to do some shopping.  It's been raining and that has kept us indoors most of the time today.  We were finalizing the asset map and the building inventory, though, so it worked out okay.  They also finished the last of the physical service work we were able to do during our time here.
Photo courtesy Glenn Sudduth
This is the vision for the area between Main and West Main, where the train tracks were originally located.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Sudduth
Tomorrow morning is clean-up of the facility where we have been staying, and then the students will pack up and head home.  I have one more meeting to attend and then I'll be going that way as well.  It is hard to believe the week has gone by so quickly, and even harder to believe that I will be back at work for the spring semester on Friday.