Places to Visit in Franklin County
At the risk of redundancy, we include more information on some of the county's most important places to see. Also included here are notes on other local organizations and on sites of special interest to the tourist. The Franklin County Historical Commission has considered tourism a key to both development and preservation and has encouraged our community's participation in the Visionaries in Preservation program of the Texas Historical Commission. Jamie Lipsey, of the THC, has written to let us know that the action plan for Franklin County has been posted on the THC web site. Check it out: www.thc.state.tx.us/visioninpres/vpcommunity.html
For more information contact the THC official who has been working with our community: Josh Lasserre at email@example.com
Detailed Information on This Page:
Visitor Center, Museum, Parchman House, Architecture, Arts Alliance, Community Art, County Records, Genealogy Society, Depot, The Era of the Telegraph, Communities, Highways, Historic Markers, Farms, Lakes, Parks, Springs and Trails, Pioneer Trails and Indian Traces, The Alamo Mission Museum
BANKHEAD HIGHWAY TRAILS & VISITOR CENTER
The Bankhead Highway, which opened in 1919, was arguably the first transcontinental highway across the U. S. - from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. It passes through Franklin County and serves as Mt. Vernon's Main Street and follows an early Indian trading route known as the Choctaw Trail. By 1930 it was renumbered as U. S. No. 1 and was called "The Broadway of America." The Bankhead Highway Route was changed in 1937 and follows present U. S. Hwy 67.
The Visitor Center is one fourth mile west of U.S. Highway 37 on CR NW 1017. Just follow Main Street to the west past Highway 37.
The Lowry Pavilion is available for rental for reunions and other special functions. Quilting classes and demonstrations are held each Wednesday morning; admission is free. Call Connie McGill at 903-537-4760 for quilting classes, information on other special events such as the monthly social for newcomers to the community, hours of operation, pavilion reservation information, and appointments for tours.
History behind the Visitor Center
The Bankhead Highway, the first transcontinental highway across the U.S. passes through Franklin County and serves as Mt. Vernon s Main Street. The Franklin County Bankhead Route follows an early Indian trading route known as the Choctaw Trail and intersects east of Mt. Vernon with the Cherokee Trail, the Texas portion of the "Trail of Tears." The Bankhead Highway opened in 1919; by 1930 it was re-named U.S. No. 1, called "The Broadway of America." The local newspaper masthead carried "THE MT. VERNON OPTIC-HERALD - ON THE BROADWAY OF AMERICA" for half a century. The Bankhead Highway Route was changed in 1937 and follows present U.S. Hwy. 67. Four miles of the original Bankhead Route lead directly from Mt. Vernon s Main Street west until intersecting again with U.S. 67.
Henry Clay Thruston purchased 100 acres of land on the north side of this highway in 1888. Thruston was born in South Carolina in 1830, moved to Tennessee, served in the Confederate Army and came to Texas in 1868. He purchased land in the Daphne Community in what is now Franklin County and moved nearer to Mt. Vernon with the purchase of this house surrounded by 100 acres of land in 1888. He died in 1911 and the land passed to his surviving son, Edward Thruston. Edward and his wife, Pollie Taylor Thruston, had two sons; both of whom died before their parents. Edward Thruston died in 1920. His wife then married J.B. Green. Miss Polly, as she was affectionately known, died in 1932, and Green died in 1937. After Green's death, the land was divided into smaller parcels.
H.C. Thruston toured with traveling circus companies after the Civil War; his wife and sons remained in Mt. Vernon. His wife predeceased him and was buried in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, and he was buried beside her at his death. Thruston stood 7 feet 7 and 1/2 inches tall and was billed as the world's tallest man. He is believed to be the tallest soldier of the Confederate Army if not of the entire Civil War.
The house was built about 1868 by Oliver A. Mathews who lived in the house until his death in about 1883. The house and acreage was sold to G.W. Malone in 1883 who then sold to H.C. Thruston in 1888. The house is architecturally significant as a 2-story dog-trot house, a style common in the 19th century across the American South. Before the adaptation of electricity for cooling; a house could be heated with the use of individual fireplaces or stoves for rooms but there was no way to cool a home in the southern summers. This house was designed to take advantage of any breeze.
Its Architectural Style
The house is architecturally significant as a two-story "dog-trot" house. This style was common in the 19th century across the American South. Before the adaptation of electricity for cooling, a house could be heated by the use of individual fireplaces or stoves, but there was no way to cool a home in the southern summers, so houses were designed with open "breezeways" to take full advantage of any moving air during the hot summer months. The Thruston house is an adaptation of the simple two-room dog-trot, with two additional rooms in the attic/second floor loft, reached by a very steep stair, which might originally have been only a ladder. The house also has a third room downstairs, a large kitchen behind the original parlor, which was probably added some time after the original structure was built.
The house had been abandoned for many years and was used to store hay, while buzzards roosted in the upper story. By the time of its acquisition, the roof was almost gone and the house itself in need of immediate repair. In 1991, it was acquired by Ikie Pollard, who deeded it to the Historical Association. The family of Ceil Moore, an interior designer in Dallas, donated $8,000 in her memory in 1991 for replacement of the roof. The Mike Jordan Family and Virgie Beth Hughes arranged substantial gifts which paid for foundation work to stabilize the house and erect a storeroom to support restoration work. In 1998 Virginia Dupree Scovell of Dallas gave the adjoining 57 acre block of land, which has become Dupree Park, in memory of her parents. The Mt. Vernon Boy Scout Troop was especially helpful in work on the house and in the development of a nature trail in Dupree Park. In 2001, Franklin County received approval of a federal grant (Transportation Enhancement Act Funding for administration by the Texas Department of Transportation) in the amount of $250,000. To qualify for the federal funding to erect the Pavilion and restore the house, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lowry and the Mt. Vernon Economic Development Corporation arranged donations of $50,000 and work commenced in earnest in 2002. The entire project was completed and dedicated the following Labor Day, September 1,2003.
The Bankhead Highway Trails and Visitor Center includes the Lowry Pavilion, which is available for rent for special outdoor occasions, and the Dupree Park Nature Preserve and Nature Trail, a mile and a half walk through the property, with special marked stations for bird sightings. Though the property gates are locked at off hours, a pedestrian gate allows admittance for individual use from dawn until dusk. A printed trail guide is available in the Visitor Center.
Through the generosity of individual donors, the house has been furnished in the simple style of a Texas farmhouse of the late 19th - early 20th century. The southwest room on the front, the only one with a fireplace and original mantel, has been turned into a quilting room, with an original quilting frame of the period, where local women of the community continue to practice the art of quilting. The southeast room is an office containing memorabilia of the restoration and photographs of Colonel Thruston and others. The northwest kitchen has been partly modernized, but retains the feeling of the original, which had a pot-belly stove and no running water. Throughout the house care has been taken, whenever possible, to retain the original look, prior to the restoration, of floors, ceilings, and doors, but entire portions of the house that were rotted away had to be replaced. For security purposes, the original open dog-trot had to be enclosed with glass. The interior is thus an amalgamation of old and new.
FIRE STATION MUSEUM
Housed in the old 1940 WPA-financed fire station, changing exhibits from the permanent collection include nature history displays of butterflies, bird eggs, violins, toys, seashells, antique tools, wood carvings, and Indian artifacts. Local museum is one of only 13 museums holding eggs of extinct Carolina Parokeet; Heath Hen; Passenger Pigeon.
You will be able to see the dental chair and equipment that was once used by Dr. Con Smith in Mt. Vernon. You will see early medical equipment and early settings of life in Mt. Vernon. Other items you can see downstairs are an early shoe shine chair, wood carvings by James Harry Smith and handwork from the 1880's.
When you move upstairs, you can see a collection of bird eggs and Indian Artifacts from Franklin County and other parts of Texas. We also have a wonderful collection of butterflies that would get any lepidopterist excited.
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.; and, otherwise, by appointment. It is located at 111 S. Kaufman Street. Call 903-537-4760 for information and appointments for tours. Admission is free. Ask for a free map of historic homes and an annotated driving-tour guide for the town.
The Stories behind Two Exhibits
1. Willie Frankenberger's Wedding Dress, as told by Sarah Davenport
Willie Frankenberger was born sometime around the year 1880 and died around the year 1965 in her late eighties in Gainesville, Texas. I knew her when we were close neighbors in Gainesville. This tragedy that had happened to her must have happened around the turn of the century when she was about 20 years old, but she still often talked about it in these years of her old age.
Young Willie Frankenberger fell in love and was betrothed to the young local undertaker. The wedding day was very near. The wedding dress had been made; all the busy plans and arrangements had been completed in anticipation of this very special event.
At the turn of the century, Oklahoma was a wild and lawless territory. If an outlaw committed a crime in Texas, he ran for the Oklahoma border for refuge. If the local toughs were itching for a fight, they went the few miles over the Oklahoma border and were always rewarded for their efforts. A prominent gunslinger of that locale had gone over into Oklahoma and had been shot and killed. His body was shipped back to Gainesville by train, and as the sole undertaker, Willie's groom met the train and claimed the gunslinger's body.
When the undertaker got the body back to the funeral parlor, he and his assistant opened the coffin used for shipping the body. The assistant was a bit excited about actually getting to see this famous gunfighter and when the coffin was opened and the man was still wearing his guns strapped on, the excited assistant pulled one of the guns from the holster and remarked, "Hey, they left old so-and-so's guns on him". At this point, the revolver he was holding discharged and shot the poor under- taker to death.
There was no wedding. In fact, Willie Frankenberger never married. The wedding had been so near that the groom had already had the possession of his property changed from sole ownership to include his new bride. The deed to the little farm where they were to have lived already had her name on it so she went to live there with her mother and father and lived there all her life.
In the years just before 1920 when that part of the country was being drilled for oil, oil was drilled on Willie's little farm. The well did not make her rich but it did bring in a comfortable income to her until the end of her life. So, although the young groom was killed before he could marry his bride, he supported her and her mother and father all of their lives.
2. The Easterling Collection
This collection of Indian Artifacts was donated to the museum by Mr.and Mrs. Charles Donald Easterling. Mr. and Mrs. Easterling live on his family's ancestral farm on the south side of the Sulphur River in the northeastern comer of Franklin County. All of these artifacts are from Franklin County and from this one site. The presence of artifacts spanning a 10,000 year period indicates almost continuous human occupancy in Franklin County.
These artifacts were collected near the banks of the Sulphur River by Mr. Easterling. Mr. Easterling is a Junior High Science Teacher in the Talco-Bogata School District and has been a teacher for 25years. He is a graduate of East Texas State University. He and his wife have three children.
For the most part, this collection is of Caddo Indian artifacts. The earlier items are from the nomadic hunter-gatherer stage before the Indians adopted a village lifestyle. The Caddo adopted settled lifestyles in this region. The Caddo population declined through exposure to diseases brought by the Spanish, French and English explorers and traders. The Indians had no natural cure or resistance for these diseases. The last Caddo in this area were removed under the anti-Indian policies of Mirabeau Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, in the early 1840's.
THE MAJORS-PARCHMAN FARMSTEAD
This 1883 Victorian farmhouse has original outbuildings, a small barn, smokehouse, chicken coop with the living history exhibit of hens and nests, and an outhouse. Picnic tables and grounds. There is also an 1868 log cabin on the property for visitors to study log construction (moved from inundated lake area).
Open in connection with museum (all maintain same hours); 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and by appointment for special tours. 701 S. Kaufman St.; 903-537-4760 or 903-537-2264. Free Admission.
The original owners of the land on which this house was built were Stephen and Rebecca Keith, who gave the land for the town of Mt. Vernon. From 1848 to 1882, the land went through a succession of five owners, including Joshua Foster Johnson, whose desk is now in the Parlor.
By 1882 the original acreage had been reduced to about 30 acres, bounded by Holbrook, Rutherford, Kaufman and Majors Streets. In 1882 the 31) acre farmstead was acquired by W. R. and Rebecca Selvidge, who owned it until 1886 and probably built the present house. Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Majors owned the house from 1889 to 1903 and sold off property to the south. When J. M. and Letitia Parchman bought the house in 1905, it consisted of the present three- quarter acre lot. The Parchmans, who owned the "dry-goods" store in downtown Mt. Vernon, lived here for over 50 years.
In 1995 the house, in total disrepair, was completely restored by B.F. Hicks, who sold it to the Franklin County Historical Association in 1996 for its permanent headquarters. The house is also now maintained as part of the Association s museum complex.
Its Architectural Style
Early Texas farmhouses typically had two rooms on either side of a central open hail (the "dogtrot"). This house has one room to the north (probably the original parlor/master bedroom, as it is larger) and three rooms to the south, with a curved side porch in addition to the front porch. Originally there was also a back porch with a well, or cistern, now enclosed. The style of this house is more in keeping with the late Victorian "cottage" style, which was popular in the last two decades of the 19th century.
Original Outbuildings and Landscaping
The property is especially interesting for its three well-preserved outbuildings on the back side of the property: a smoke house, a hen house, and a small barn. Also preserved are over a dozen of the original pecan and walnut trees. Flowers and shrubs are in keeping with those of the period.
Interior Furnishings and Paintings
Furnishings and objects in the front hall and parlor of the house are mostly representative of the period (turn of the century) and many belonged to original Franklin County families. The Eastlake style, a late Victorian furniture style, is exemplified in the mirror over the mantel, marble top table and parlor chairs.
Paintings in the house were all executed by Franklin County women, who studied art locally and lived and worked here from the 1890s to the 1940s. Some of the paintings are over one hundred years old.
The Majors-Parchman house also contains a collection of school memorabilia, a portion of which is always on display.
FRANKLIN COUNTY ARCHITECTURE
Over 60 pre-World War I (1918 or before) homes and structures have been marked with signs maintained by the Franklin County Historical Association. Free maps with a free driving tour map are available at the chamber of commerce office or at historical association properties.
There are three antebellum homes standing in the county, one of which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Drummond House (1854) in the Hopewell Community has fallen into disrepair but gives an indication of the old south with its wide veranda, central open porch, and 16 foot ceilings. The Gregg home (ca. 1837), built by illegal settlers who first arrived about 1818 from Indiana, and the Petty-Killingsworth Home (on the south service road of I-30 east of Mt. Vernon), built in 1854, also give a real sense of the history of the county.
The buildings around the town square date from 1880 (Fleming Building on southeast corner of square) and 1897 (Parson's Parade) to the 1912 library. Note the Chamber of Commerce Building which has cast iron columns; dating the building to about 1880. Bricks for the Fleming Building and genealogy building are locally made; clay bricks mined east of cemetery hill and fired on the town square.
The Franklin County Library opened in 1977 in the former First National Bank Building. The Library occupies a 3850 square foot area and has over 20,000 volumes.
THE FRANKLIN COUNTY ARTS ALLIANCE
Above: The Old Jail Art Museum
Franklin County Arts Alliance. Operating the Old Jail Art Museum (immediately behind the courthouse on town square) and the Cultural Arts Center (at the corner of Rusk and Dallas Streets, one block west of the town square). The Old Jail Art Museum has changing visual art exhibitions as well as a permanent collection on display on the upper floor of the former 1912 county jail that also includes an original cell block of historical interest. Open during community festivities, during receptions for the exhibiting artist and by appointment.
The Cultural Arts Center houses the office of the Arts Alliance, and is the venue for stage presentations, lessons, meetings and special gatherings. The Center is open during community festivities and by appointment. 903-537-4034. Check out the adjacent art gallery and frame shop, and check out their website: www.franklincountyarts.com
ART IN THE COMMUNITY
A driving tour of art leading into and within Mt. Vernon provided by the "Arts in the Community" Committee of the Franklin County Arts Alliance.
(1) Approach Mt. Vernon from the West on I-30. On the south service road of I-30, at mile marker 145, you see the second of numerous life-size, decorated cows placed in the area, on the Rick and Lu Butler Farm, the Cow, "Tex."
(2) Take the I-30 exit 146. At the 4- way stop at the intersection of the South Service Road of I-30 and State Highway 37, east of the intersection on the Franklin National Bank property, the well-known western bronze artist, Gary Henry's "Native Texan," a life-size wire sculpture of a Texas long-horn.
(3) Head toward downtown Mt. Vernon. On Highway 37, at the beginning of the bypass intersection is Mt. Vernon's "Welcome Wall," landscaped and bearing the inscription, "Mt. Vernon Welcomes You."
(4) On Mt. Vernon's historical square on the Courthouse lawn, the town statute features a soldier shaking hands with a Native American, entitled "A Cultural Handshake."
(5) Continue North on Hwy 37 (N. Kaufman St.) from the town square, to Little Creek Park. Here you see the decorated Cow, "Picowso," designed and painted by the children of Mt. Vernon.
COUNTY RECORDS, NEWSPAPER RECORDS, AND GENEALOGY MATERIALS
County records in Franklin County date to 1836; when the county was organized, clerks were sent to transcribe the land records relating to Franklin County land in both Red River and Titus Counties. Invaluable genealogical records are preserved in our county as a result of this. When the Titus County courthouse burned in 1895, the records were lost for all time except for those copied in Franklin County. Records of early ownership and heirship are set out in these records which remain available today in our courthouse.
The county was carved out of Titus County in 1875 and a courthouse was built in the center of the town square in 1877. The courthouse was torn down in 1912 and the present courthouse was erected on the north side of the square. The present courthouse was built at a cost of $55,000.00 and is well maintained. The courthouse is built in a southern Georgian colonial style and the district courtroom has recently been restored and is used for public concerts and meetings as well as continuing to serve as the official courtroom for district court sessions.
Mt. Vernon has the distinction of being the smallest (in population) city in the state of Texas approved as an official Texas Main Street City. The city's Main Street Board actively seeks restoration and revitalization for the town.
Back issues of The Optic-Herald, local newspaper, are on microfilm from 1907. The genealogy society and the historical association both have the newspapers available and also both organizations have numerous publications available on county and local history.
FRANKLIN COUNTY GENEALOGY SOCIETY
Franklin County Genealogy Society. 110 E. Main (south side, town square) in the 1894 Parchman-Meredith Store Building. Open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. - Monday - Friday and 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. - Saturday. Free research facilities with local archives and volunteer research assistants on duty. 903-537-3931. Internet subscription to Ancestry.com for public use. Microfilm, microfiche and CD's of Census and other historic records. Large collection of books covering Civil War, Indian History, UK-Royalty-all states and adjoining counties. Books on local history and vital records for sale. Meetings - 3rd Monday of each month at the Society's building - 110 E. Main - 7 p.m. - programs of genealogical interest. Everyone is welcome. The society's web site is the following:
1894 RAILROAD DEPOT & EXHIBITS
The restored Mt. Vernon 1894 Cotton Belt Railroad Depot is a real gem which has been carefully restored pursuant to National Register standards with original colors and decor. Waiting rooms, designed to serve the separate races under the law of the land at that time, today house exhibits. The central office is furnished with antiques suitable to an office at the turn of the last century, working telegraphy, and railroading exhibits. A model train exhibit in the white waiting room will delight children. The large freight room houses an 1899 Studebaker covered wagon in excellent condition and offers students a chance to reflect on the real change in transportation in America after the advent of the automobile. There is also a small 1880 log cabin moved onto the property, a syrup press and mill; period mule-drawn farm machinery; and a blacksmith shop.
It is located at 202 S. Kaufman Street. Call 903-537-4760, Tuesday and Thursday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; and a docent will be dispatched to give a tour. Or call for appointments at other times. Admission is free.
On February 23, 1887, the first train arrived in Mt. Vernon. Texas. The importance of this event cannot be underestimated. It assured the permanent location of the city of Mt. Vernon as well as opened new realms of commerce for the county. The train guaranteed the community s economic growth based on an agricultural economy. The arrival of the train allowed easy travel to other cities by Mt. Vernon citizens and the means for people to travel to Mt. Vernon.
The train gave farmers the much improved means of marketing their cotton and their produce. The 1908 U. S. Department of Agriculture bulletins for Franklin County reported that over a half million peach trees were planted in the county. Cantaloupes, corn and oats are just a few of the additional items shipped on the new railroad. Previously, freight came and went by the Jefferson Highway--a route from Mt. Vernon to Jefferson, passing through Mt. Pleasant, Daingerfield and Hughes Springs by ox cart or wagon and then by boat from Jefferson to Shreveport to New Orleans.
The railroad depot was originally constructed on the north side of the Cotton Belt tracks between the tracks and a siding about 1892. The depot was later moved up to the eastern side of Rusk Street and then to its present location on the west side of Kaufman Street.
In the depot you will notice the two different waiting rooms. These rooms would have had water buckets set up with a common dipper for everyone to use. The black painted rectangle on the wall was the "black board" which showed the arrival and departing schedules. The baggage carts in the freight room were used to take luggage to and from the depot. The wagon in the freight room was built around 1897 in Alabama. The family of Eugenia Denson Ivey (great grandmother of B. F. Hicks) left Gadsden, Alabama, and after a 28-day trip, walking most of the way beside the wagon, arrived in Mt. Vernon in 1902.
Col. Dan Bolin wrote in 1925: "Mt. Vernon up to this time (1886) had never had a railroad; there had been one graded in the fall of 188 I but from some cause it had been abandoned. Another company bought out this road bed in 1886 and commenced work clearing of the right-of-way and getting cut cross ties. Railroad building was on a boom from September 1, of this year, until the spring of 1887 in Franklin County. The trains reached Mt. Vernon early in February 1887, to the great delight of all the people of both town and country. A large tie business continued for a year after the railroad was built, which made our town look like a city while this business was going on."
The last regular passenger service from Mt. Vernon ended when the Katy passenger train #108 hound for Texarkana and points north stopped in Mt. Vernon at 2:00 P.M., April 22, 1956. Cars were still being delivered by rail as late as 1949.
The railroad depot was sold to Bill Campbell about 1970 by the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad. Upon Mr. Campbell s death, his family gave the depot to the Franklin County Historical Association.
"The Era of the Telegraph - Communication Over Distance: From the Smoke Signal to Internet E-Mail"
When this humble webmaster served as pastor to McKenzie United Methodist Church in Honey Grove, Texas, during the years 1987-1991, he became friends with an elderly gentleman named Horace Gandy. This was the son of Joe W. "Coon Creek" Gandy, the famous County Correspondent to The Optic Herald from the Cypress Community near Purley. On his mantle sat the disconnected mechanism of the very telegraph with which he had long made his living in younger days. I had never met another telegraph operator and don't expect to meet one now; but there was one, discovered unexpectedly in our "small world," born many years before right here in Franklin County. What follows is the text that goes with our Old Depot display of a telegraph.
History teaches us of man’s need to communicate over distance. The story conies to mind that the modem marathon was derived from the Greek runner who ran 26 miles to inform his leaders of a victory in battle, then fell dead. When hand delivery or verbal delivery of messages was inadequate, the ingenuity of man developed a series of methods that were instantaneous. Today we recognize the “cell phone” and “email” to name a few. During the progression of development, a very important step was utilized which we know as the “telegraph.” So let us look briefly at its development amid use. First, where did the word “telegraph” originate? During the early part of the 19th century, messages were transmitted by signal flags from one hill or a tower on a hill to another and on to another for whatever distance was necessary or possible. This method came to be known as “telegraph.” Au example of this is time “Telegraph Hill” in San Francisco, California, which was used by a lookout who in turn signaled the arrival of ships to the harbor officials so they could prepare for docking amid unloading. This brings us to the transmission of a message over distance by wire. This method was first called the “Electric Telegraph” amid subsequently shortened to “Telegraph.” The person credited with developing a working telegraph system and devising a code with which to transmit messages was Samuel F. B. Morse. The code lie devised is still in use today amid carries his name, “Morse Code”. This code is a series of dots amid dashes which when listened to by a trained operator can be interpreted as letters and numbers which make up the message. The first system was set up between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844. Morse was assisted by Alfred Vail over the next several years in an effort to improve the system and adapt it for practical use. Even though his invention was originally challenged, he obtained a patent that was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1854. The railroad and the telegraph fit together like a hand and glove. The telegraph was adapted to signal and control rail traffic so that two trains going in opposite directions could use the same track. One being side tracked until the other passed. Also, the rail mc was a natural for stringing the required wire from one station to another. The railroad station then became the central communication link from one city or town to another by relaying custom personal messages from one city to another. Soon newspapers began to use wire services to relay news from one part of the country to another. In our old Depot we have a mock up of hardware to simulate the working telegraph. Some of this hardware was made by the J. H. Bernull Company who manufactured telegraph equipment in the mid 1800’s and continued to do so for more than one hundred years. The “transmission key,” the “relay,” and the “sounder” continue to be the basic hardware for wire transmission today.
FRANKLIN COUNTY COMMUNITIES
By 1850 there were perhaps 1,500 people in the county and that number had doubled by 1860; all families suffered during the Civil War and half the resident adult male population died or was killed in the hardships of that time.
A migration after the Civil War saw the county population grow and by 1900 the U.S. Census records 7,000 people in the county. The population grew until 1920 when it began a downward pattern with the trends to population shifting during the urbanization of America. It was not until after the dam was closed on Lake Cypress Springs in 1972 that the county again saw a population growth and the population did not approach the 1900 population again until the 1980 census was taken. The County was agricultural with small farm holdings scattered over the county.
We have 21 official state historic markers in Franklin County, with four in Mt. Vernon and the rest in the county, marking communities, homes, or other historic sites.
By 1848 both Gray Rock (at the intersection of the Indian roads - by now Anglo roads) and Mt. Vernon (a few miles west on the Choctaw trail and near good spring water - the Fannin Springs) had been awarded Post Offices.
There were 32 white and 8 colored schools in the academic year 1907-08; and 16 communities with post offices in this county; today there is one.
There are 48 documented cemeteries in the county representing communities that have long been abandoned. In a day and age when a man could support his family with "40 acres and a mule" this county was representative of that post-Civil War southern lifestyle.
Communities with schools in 1907 are as follows: Mt. Vernon, Big Creek, Hamilton, Prairie Grove, Friendship, Pleasant Grove, Flora Bluff, Gray Rock, Hopewell, Rock Hill, County Line, Shady Grove, Lone Star, Cypress, Purley, Union, Glade Springs, New Hope, Clearwater, Spring Place, Caddo, Rock Springs, Winnsboro, Eureka, Fairview, Lakeview, Hagansport, Wims, Smith, East Line, Pleasant Hill, Panther's Chapel, and Baldwin's Bluff. Colored schools were functioning at Mt. Vernon, Hamilton, Gray Rock, Hopewell, Lone Star, Glade Springs, Spring Place and Winnsboro.
The Franklin County Museum displays a large map of the county with all communities marked.
Franklin County has a long and narrow north-south configuration. The Cherokee Trace runs along our eastern boundary; a Caddo Indian highway which led from the southern regions of the Caddo Confederacy near Nacogdoches into Oklahoma. Accounts by French traders and travelers in the 1700's report that the highway was wide enough for four horsemen to ride abreast through the thick forest.
Nicholas Trammel traveled this route in 1812 and it is also called Trammel=s Trace. Settlers adapted the road for their own uses. Only a few remnants remain open in the east half of the county.
The Cherokee Indians traveled this highway in the 1820's and 1830's when they were expelled from their native lands in the eastern states. One band of Cherokees settled near Nacogdoches. With Mirabeau B. Lamar's 1839 election as president of the Republic of Texas, they traveled the same route north when the Republic expelled them to Oklahoma. We call this the Cherokee Trace and it is truly a part of the Trail of Tears.
The Choctaw Trail, an East-West Indian Trade Route passes through the county parallel to present U.S. Highway 67. The last Indian Massacre in the eastern half of Texas was on April 10, 1841, just east of Mt. Vernon on the Cherokee Trace.
The Choctaw trail passes through Mt. Vernon as Main Street. West of Mt. Vernon, the trail was known as the Mt. Vernon to Sulphur Springs Road and was incorporated as a part of the Bankhead Highway Route in 1919. The Bankhead Route turned down Holbrook Street and followed the Old Jefferson Road into Mt. Pleasant (north service road of I-30). In the 1930's, the Choctaw Route was abandoned and present US Hwy 67 was opened to the south between Saltillo and Winfield. In the 1930's, this route was first designated as US #1. The Route was also called "The Broadway of America"; this name remained on the Optic-Herald Masthead until 1964 when I-30 opened south of the US 67 route.
Kaufman Street in Mt. Vernon was known in the 1880s as the Mt. Vernon to Winnsboro Road, long before present day Hwy 37 was opened to Winnsboro. And Holbrook Street in the 1880s was known as the Mt. Vernon to Pittsburg Road.
There is speculation that the remnants of the LaSalle party passed through here as they tried to reach French Canada in the late 1600s. Spanish explorers of the 1500s probably came within present day Franklin County, given the meandering Indian trade routes that would have made travel easier for them. The De Soto expedition and later the Moscoso expedition may well have passed through here, and would have been relatively close in any event.
STATE HISTORIC MARKERS AND HISTORIC FARMS
A few historic landholdings remain intact. The Texas Department of Agriculture has recognized several farms in the Family Land Heritage Program of farms and ranches continuously operated by one family for more than a century. A study of the county land grants also reveals land granted through the Spanish and Mexican governments before the Texas Revolution.
Farms recognized in the Family Land Heritage Program include: Carnes Franklin County Farm (1874); Drummond Farm (1850); Enos Harper Homestead (1853); Graves Ranch (1899); Green Hughes Homestead (1883); Guthrie Farms (1882); Laws Guernsey Farm (1874); Long Farm (1856); Newsome Jersey Farm (1869); Sims Farm (1860); SJG Farms (1847); Joyner Farm (1901).
We have 21 official state historic markers in Franklin County, marking communities, burials, homes, or other historic sites. Official State Markers include: (1) Clearwater Baptist Church; (2) Rev. Robert Crawford; (3) Cypress Church and Cemetery; (4) J.A. Drummond Farm Home; (5) Fairview Church and Cemetery; (6) First Baptist Church of Mt. Vernon; (7) First United Methodist Church of Mt. Vernon; (8) Franklin County; (9) Franklin County Courthouse; (10) Good Hope Cemetery; (11) Gray Rock Cemetery; (12) Hagansport Cemetery; (13) Captain F. Marion Hastings; (14) Joshua Foster Johnson; (15) Killingsworth Home; (16) New Hope Baptist church; (17) Pleasant Hill Methodist Church and Cemetery; (18) Ripley Massacre; (19) Rockhill Cemetery; (20) Rutherford Drugstore; and (21) Wright-Vaughan House. Additionally, several cemeteries in the county have the state historic cemetery designation.
The town of Mt. Vernon was incorporated as a city in 1910. The earliest home still standing in the town of Mt. Vernon dates from 1870 (Wright-Vaughan House); there are two ante-bellum homes in the county. Over 40 Pre-World War I homes are marked with attractive signs provided by the Franklin County Historical Commission and an active effort is underway to preserve the county's heritage.
The first courthouse was on the north side of the square; then a courthouse was built in the middle of the square; that courthouse was torn down in 1912 and the present courthouse was erected on the north side of the square. The present courthouse was built at a cost of $55,000.00 and is well maintained. The courthouse is built in a southern Georgian colonial style and the district courtroom has recently been restored and is used for public concerts and meetings as well as continuing to serve as the official courtroom for district court sessions.
Cypress Springs: Lake Cypress Springs was impounded in 1970 in Franklin County with 3,400 acres of top fishing waters. Walleye were stocked in the early days of the lake with some success. Black Bass and catfish are the prime targets of visiting anglers. The waters of Lake Bob Sandlin back up to the dam on Cypress Creek. Contact: Franklin County Water District, 903-537-4536; website: www.fcwd.com
Bob Sandlin: Built on Big Cypress Bayou, the lake began filling back in 1977 to cover 9,460 acres. These waters back up to the dams of two other members of this triple body of water, Lake Cypress Springs and Lake Monticello. Stocked with Florida bass and channel catfish before it was filled, it is recognized as a top fishing lake. State Park at the lake attracts over 100,000 visitors a year. Take State Highway 21 south from Mt. Vernon; Park entry on east side of Hwy 21; north side of Lake Bob Sandlin. Contact: Park office: 903-572-5531; website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Monticello: This 2,000 acre power-generating reservoir north of Lake bob Sandlin was filled in 1973 and has since gained notoriety for its big bass. Three of the top 50 bass fish in the state have been caught here, the largest tipping the scales at 14 pounds, 3.5 ounces. Call Bob Sandlin State Park for information - 903-572-5531.
Little Creek Park features volleyball courts with facilities for tennis, baseball, soccer, basketball, and picnic areas. In addition to playground equipment, there's a swimming pool open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Also, for birders, check out the Old City Lake with open pasture for hiking, 1.5 miles south of I-30 on Hwy 115 (west side of 115).
Contact Mt. Vernon Parks & Recreation for more info.: 903-537-2441.
Dogwood Park, Walleye Park, Overlook Park, Mary King Park, and W.D. Guthrie Park comprise 850 acres of public parks around Lake Cypress Springs. RV hookups and picnic facilities allow visitors to enjoy fishing, boating, water skiing, and hiking at the popular lake.
Contact: The Franklin County Water District for more information: P. O. Box 559, Mt. Vernon 75457, or call 903-860-7799; 903-537-4536; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; and visit www.fcwd.com.
Dupree Park. 57-acre natural area with pavilion available for public rent. Nature trail within park is marked by 65 sign posts; a guide to the nature trail sets out detailed information regarding the flora and fauna to be found with the preserve corresponding to the sign posts. The park is open dawn to dusk. The adjacent home of Henry Clay Thruston serves as a visitor center for the community and is open during the week and by appointment. A pedestrian entry allows access to the nature trail with parking on the road. The preserve is 0.2 mile west of State Highway 37, on CRNW 1017 (note: head west on Mt. Vernon=s Main Street; cross US 37 and you are on CR NW 1017),
Pavilion available for use for reunions/special events.
Contact: Franklin County Historical Association 903-537-4760
City Lake Park. The grounds surrounding the Mt. Vernon City Lake are open for hiking and afford great opportunities for viewing waterfowl from October-March and a variety of other seasonal bird species. The park offers no facilities and is maintained by the City of Mt. Vernon. 1.5 miles south of Interstate 30 on Highway 115. Open year round for walking and hiking. Annual Labor Day Rodeo is held on these grounds and seasonal events of local riding club, sheriff's posse and other civic and school groups.
WEST END PRESERVE
The preserve is 455 acres in size. It has a marked parking area and a marked 1.2 mile nature trail into deep forest. Its entry is on Highway 37, 10 miles south of Mt. Vernon on the east side of the road, just north of the main bridge over Cypress Creek. It is open dawn to dusk. The property was leased by the historical association from the Franklin County Water District on a 30-year agreement. Since that agreement was formalized, the association has forged a six-foot path through the property from Hwy. 37 to Cypress Creek, which runs through the preserve and into Lake Cypress Springs. It is an easy walk, much like the trails that have been cut through Texas State Parks, but it is wider. Caleb Hicks placed the markers on the trail for his Eagle Scout project about 2005.
At the present time, the trail ends at the creek, but the members of the historical association are talking about building a bridge over the creek with an observation deck on the other side. The preserve is an old growth forest with a number of huge short leaf pine trees. The pines we usually see in this area are loblolly pines that grow quickly and are used for wood pulp for paper and building products. There are an estimated 40 species of trees in the preserve, probably all of the hardwoods native to Texas. Because there has been no logging in the preserve, old pine trees have been allowed to stand and are dotted with holes carved as nests by woodpeckers.
The preserve is not on Little Cypress Creek, the northern bottom that is crossed by Hwy. 37, but on Big Cypress Creek, at the foot of a big hill at the edge of Winnsboro. From the traffic light at the south service road in Mount Vernon, it is 9.4 miles on Hwy. 37 to the trail. There is an iron gate with a sign designating it as property of the Franklin County Water District, and a sign identifying the preserve. No motorized vehicles are allowed inside.
A GPS may help in locating the place; and geocaching may be of interest to someone. John Hicks placed a geocache a couple of years ago; and others have maintained it:
N 33° 01.737 W 095° 16.022
UTM: 15S E 288269 N 3656780
This is a traditional cache with some souvenirs of the town and county. You may take one. Please register your find on the log inside. When we placed the box, it was wet and hot and the mosquitoes were terrible - so take repellant for the hunt in similar weather.
Early this year, Bob McFarland placed four wood duck boxes on the trail, the first being at Post 21 and the last just past Post 39. If you are going to open the boxes, tap on the box first and give the duck a chance to fly out of the box. In late March a check of the boxes revealed that the first box was empty; the second box had four wood duck eggs covered with about an inch of wood chips; the third box had two beautiful wood ducks sitting on the water in front of the box but not yet any eggs in the box; and the fourth box had 17 eggs – which probably means that more than one wood duck had been laying eggs in the box. The eggs in the fourth box were covered with a layer of down, which indicated that mama duck was about to start incubating the eggs. The incubation period for wood duck eggs is about 32 days; so by early May there should have been baby wood ducks swimming in the water at the West End. The baby wood ducks jump out of their box when they are one day old.
SPRINGS AND TRAILS
The county historical association provides maps for biking, hiking, and suggested scenic drives. The county is unusual in that several springs still flow, most notably the springs which provide the water supply for Lake Cypress Springs and are the headwaters for the entire Cypress Basin Watershed.
Fanning Springs was at the south end of Mt. Vernon, near the J.C. Stringer Home, and served as the original area for settlement of the town in the 1830s. In 1849, the Keith Family gave the 24-acre block where the present town is situated; town commercial and residential lots were laid out and the people moved into the town.
Check with the Chamber of Commerce office or other local museums and pick up a driving route for the historic homes in the town.
Pioneer Trails and Indian Traces: September 11, 2006, the Franklin County Historical Association General Meeting included the program “Following Footprints: Pioneer Trails and Indian Traces.”
The following announcement included commentary on the history of these old paths and roads passing through Franklin and Titus counties. That commentary and the directions to the site of the actual meeting bear repeating for anyone who would like to take a driving tour:
Take Highway 67 east from Town Square; go 2 blocks east from square; turn left on CR NE 2010, which follows the Choctaw Trail, a Caddo Indian Route dating back 2,000 years. The white men’s wagons caused deep ruts which are evident from the high banks along the roadside as you drive east from Mt. Vernon. The Choctaw Indians traveled this road after their forced removal from the eastern states but Caddo Indians used it for east-west transit to the plains near Arlington, Texas, long before the Choctaws arrived. Cross FM highway 1896; on the left after a mile, you will pass Flora Bluff, once the site of a thriving village. You will come to the intersection with the Cherokee Trace (CR NE 2090). At the northwest corner of intersection is Baldwin’s Bluff, site of a pioneer fort and another thriving village with a school until 1920.
If you have a few minutes, you can drive north on FM Highway 1896 for three miles and you'll encounter the Daphne Prairie on your left (west). Anthony Glass was sent here in 1808 by tile Jefferson administration to survey this Section of the Louisiana Purchase. The vistas remain almost the same today and those described by Glass. If you take the side trip, just double back and continue east on CR NE 2010.
At the intersection of CR NE 2010 and CR NE 2090, the Cherokee Trace (2909) leads from Caddo ceremonial centers at Spiro, Oklahoma to centers at Alto, Texas. The Cherokees took this route south when forced from their homes in the Eastern United States. They were forced back along this same route when the Republic of Texas forcibly removed them to the Indian Territory about 1840. The road is also called Trammel’s Trace since it was traveled by a scout for the U.S. government when this area was claimed as a part of the Louisiana Purchase (1803-1819).
In 1819, the United States released its claims to lands lying south of the Red River; but John Humphries arrived in 1818 and was our first permanent Anglo settler at this intersection. This intersection is as historic as you will find in northeast Texas. The first settlers take up the corners. The Ambrose Ripley family have their land surveyed by Ken Greer’s ancestor in 1837 at the southeast quadrant and 8 members of that family are killed on April 10, 1841 by Indians. The Hughes family is at the northeast quadrant and the Charles Black family are to the east of the Ripley land. Richard Hamrick’s ancestors (Millers and Burns) live to the east. All those families join in pursuit of the Indians after that massacre.
The short section of the Cherokee Trace to the north (CR NE 2090) is a fragment of a road described by a French traveler in 1767 as wide enough for 4 horsemen to ride abreast through the heavy forest.
Stay on CR NE 2010 and pass into Titus County; Turn left before you see the Bridge Closed sign. To the right is Ripley Creek and the Charles Black homestead on the right occupies the same site the family settled about 1840.
After a half mile, you will see Tranquil Cemetery on your right. The first generation of pioneers are buried back on the Cherokee Trace. But in February 1841 the pioneers assembled here and organized the first Methodist congregation in a wide area. A godly slave of John Stewart was enlisted to preach. A crude log structure was built and replaced after the Civil War. In 1886, Tom Wilkinson’s great-grandparents gave an acre for a church about a half mile to the east; the church was rolled across the country on logs to the present church site at West New Hope.
Continue on Titus County Road 1220 for 1.3 miles; take the first right (continuing on 1220). You will see the West New Hope Church atop a hill about a half mile to the east.
The present church was built in 1909; with Green Hughes serving as church treasurer and collecting $1,500.00 to pay for the building which remains today, debt free. Ancestors of many FCHA members - Hughes, Oliver, Aikin, Harper, Kirk, Killingsworth, Floyds, Burns, Thomas, Brown - were charter members at Tranquil and then here at West New Hope in 1886. The original pulpit from the Tranquil Church dating to about 1844 and two ornate chairs from the 1886 church are in the church inn in Mt. Vernon. Modern furnishings were installed about 1970 but Virgie Beth Hughes intervened and purchased the older furnishings which will someday return home to this church.
THE ALAMO MISSION MUSEUM
This museum is being constructed as both an educational facility and also to house area artifacts and collectibles. Construction began in 1999 with the purchase of a railroad boxcar over which stucco was applied. Fencing will include a split-rail fence made of poplar wood across the front, and two fifty-foot block-and-stucco walls at both sides in an effort to give the impression of a fort. Once the concrete is completely cured, the building will be painted with windows and alcoves will be cut in. There will be no admission charge.
In addition to this initial building, plans are to acquire three separate units to be placed in the shape of a fort in the back, with a courtyard in the center. One unit will emphasize the Texas coastal region, as this large area is often neglected; one will house our western heritage pieces and information; and the third, primitives such as the first washing machines, spinning wheels, etc. The original structure will house information on the key players of the historic Battle of the Alamo, and other information on the Mission San Antonio de Valero in addition to railroad paraphernalia.
How Do We Get There? From the west on I30 take the Mt. Vernon Exit 147 or Spur 423 (Love's Truck Stop Exit). Stay on the South Service Road and take the first road to your right, CR 4105. The Museum is located 1.5 miles on your left.
Purpose of the Association behind the Museum:
1. The Association's overall goal is to educate those who wish to learn about their Texas heritage in general and most specifically, our own Franklin County. We are displaying information on those who have lived and died here through photo essays and preservation of area artifacts and primitives.
2. We are displaying Alamo facts and Texas seacoast items for those who have not traveled to south Texas with a special emphasis on displays geared for children.
Anyone interested in promoting The Alamo Mission Museum may become a member of THE ALAMO AMIGOS, who receive newsletters and are invited to participate in all activities. Membership dues begin at $3. Donations are tax-deductible, as the museum is a non-profit corporation registered with the Texas Secretary of State. The mailing address is 1714 CR 4105 SE, Mt. Vernon, Texas 75457. For more information contact Jacqueline Bateman at 903-588-2442 or 903-575-9554, send e-mail to email@example.com or visit www.thealamomission.com and take a look at the museum.