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Navarro County, Texas


Navarro County Historical Society || Pioneer Village


4/2/2003 Society preserves county history

By MICAH CHAPLIN/Daily Sun Staff

It all began over a cup of coffee at the Navarro Hotel in 1956. Alva Taylor and Joe Daniel sat and discussed the need for a historical outlet in Navarro County. They wanted to create a way to document and preserve the history in Navarro County.

In its infancy, the Navarro County Historical Society was a scholarly gathering of people who delivered papers dealing with the early history of the county.

"We're not sure how often they met, but the members would read papers about a person, place or event, significant to Navarro County," Bobbie Young said. "These papers were then published in the Navarro County Scroll once a year."

Eventually, the society decided buildings and artifacts also needed preservation. The first building, named the Frontier House, was donated by Dr. Cooksey and moved to Corsicana from Chatfield. Originally built by Capt. Robert Hodges' slaves, the home was dismantled and the logs were numbered so they would be put back together in the correct order. It was reassembled by Rev. Carlos Love and Alva Taylor bought much of the furnishings with his own money.

These days, the Navarro County Historical Society meets every other month and is constantly working on new projects. Currently, they are working to update the constitution and by-laws, which they hope to complete this year. They recently received a new storage building, which will aid in the archival process and allow for more space. Like many similar organizations, they are constantly seeking grants for repairs.

Eddie Pevehouse is also conducing research on the early town of Mt. Pisgah.

"It's probably the highest point in the county," Young said. "Outlaw John Wesley Hardin lived there. There were many feuds over boundaries between the early Mercer colonists and old Texians already there."

The society is planning to place a historical marker out in Pisgah Ridge to commemorate the historical importance of this location.

The organization currently boats 70 members, but Young says they are always welcoming more.

"We would love to have anyone with an interest in history join us," she said.


Micah Chaplin may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

4/25/2004 DERRICK DAYS: Trio of city's finest inducted into Historical Society hall

The Navarro County Historical Society Pioneer Village Hall of Fame inducted three people on Saturday. From left, inductees Sidney Miller, Yvonne Putman, and Louis Gillespie and Brooks Morris, who accepted the award on behalf of Liz Gillespie, who recently passed away. Louis is her brother and Morris is her nephew. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA


Derrick Days is based upon Corsicana history.

As has been the tradition for the last 11 years, the Navarro County Historical Society and Pioneer Village inducted three citizens -- Elizabeth Gillispie, Sidney Miller and Wyvonne Putman -- into their Hall of Fame during Derrick Days.

While misting rain made it necessary to move the ceremony from outside at Pioneer Village to the inside of the Senior Activity Center across the street, a small crowd showed up to support the honorees.

Bobby Fluker of the Historical Society said he thought when he got up Saturday and saw the rain, that the Hall of Fame ceremony would be the only successful event of this years Derrick Days, and was pleased that was not the case.

Fluker said in his introduction that Don Steely was the originator of the Hall of Fame, with the idea of placing photographs on the walls of the Hall of Fame building at Pioneer Village.

"It would honor people who have made a significant contribution to Corsicana in the fields of history, business or entertainment," Fluker said.
The recently deceased Liz Gillispie was the first to be inducted, with Bobbie Young of Pioneer Village giving the posthumous award.

"I can't say enough about Liz," Young said. "How many of you know someone like Liz who was a full-time volunteer, six days a week? She was just a selfless person who would do anything for you. Not a day goes by we don't miss her -- it's almost like she's on vacation, and will be coming back soon. You always knew where you stood with Liz, and there were so many friends at her funeral recently."

Gillispie was born in Corsicana in 1927, and lost her mother at age 2. She and her three siblings went to live with their grandparents in Tupelo, and were later placed in an orphanage in Waco, until each graduated from high school.

After completing cosmetology school, Liz was a practicing beautician until joining the Marines during the Korean conflict. She was the 12th female Marine to be stationed at Paris Island, S.C. She heard John F. Kennedy speak at San Diego during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and toured Hawaii with her nephew, also a Marine.

"Family meant a lot to Liz, and she was able to purchase her great, great grandparents place in Hester, which was important to her," Young said. "She found after she retired that she couldn't be away from people very long ... which is when she started her volunteer work."

Ines Waggoner, who worked with Gillispie in the genealogy room at the Corsicana Public Library, also spoke about Gillispie.

"The Genealogy Society was established here in 1978, and Liz joined in 1984," Waggoner said. "She was head of printing the quarterly, and in 1987, became a lifetime member of the society. She came to the library every chance she got to research her family history, and was instrumental in organizing the genealogy department.

"She was one of my best friends -- and I will always love her," she said, with voice breaking.

The next inductee into the Hall of Fame was Miller, with Bobby Fluker making the presentation. Miller was born in 1916 in Corsicana, and graduated high school in 1934. His first job was as an elevator operator at State National Bank, but had to leave when winter came due to his asthma.

"Sidney took to the movie business, and worked at the Palace Theatre in 1936 as an usher," Fluker said. "Talk about volunteer work -- Sidney didn't get paid for the first year he worked there."

P.T. Barnum influenced Miller as a "showman." Fluker's brother Clay was Miller's best friend, and they took a trip to Hollywood to "meet the stars."

"When they got back, the car was covered with autographs of stars, and it was on display at the Palace," he said. "It was found out later that somewhere between here and California, with some paint and writing left-handed and right-handed so the signatures wouldn't match, they put all those names on there themselves."

Miller managed theaters, owned theaters, and built the second drive-in theater in Corsicana, called Hillside Drive-In. Selling his interest in theaters in 1963, Miller bought a coffee house on Collin Street, but found the restaurant business a hard one, and sold soon after to an aunt.

Miller also built the Lamplighter Apartments, which were the second apartments in town, after the Greenbrier.

"He met the love of his life, Jane Pearson, whose family had Burson-Pearson Florist, and they married in 1954," Fluker said. "They have similar interests, and are very supportive of each others interests. They are heavy travelers, having been all over the world.

"Sidney Miller remembers when I was born -- he has known me all of my life."

Putman was the third honoree, with Sheriff Les Cotten giving the presentation. Born in Stanford, Wyvonne Yaws graduated from Stanford High School and Scoggins Beauty Academy of Abilene. She operated beauty salons in Stanford and Purdon. Wyvonne married Wendell Wayne Putman of Navarro Mills in 1947, and has two children; Wendell Wayne Putman, Jr. and wife Jennifer Owens, and Patrice Putman Flint and husband, Robert Flint. Grandchildren are Erin Lea Putman and Eliot Christopher Flint.

"In 1972, Wyvonne was the first person hired by the City as director and curator of Pioneer Village," Cotten said. "She was also the first executive secretary of the Navarro County Historical Society."

Many additions to Pioneer Village were made under her watch, including the brick office building, public restroom, log tack shed, the Sam Roberts museum, the carriage house, three carriages, and a 1930s Farmall tractor. The Peace Officers museum was restored, and the McKie Play House, Redden House, and the Lefty Frizzell shotgun house were all moved to Pioneer Village under her guidance.

"In addition, seven volumes of history were published by the society under Wyvonne's direction, which was a tremendous undertaking," Cotten said. "Under her direction, the Mayor's pictures from 1871 to present were added and are now displayed in the council chambers of the city government center. The Historical Society also added the Navarro County Judges from 1846 to present to display at the Navarro County Courthouse."

Over 100 Texas Historical Markers were added within the county during her tenure, and Navarro County led the state one year in number of new markers. She chaired the Navarro County Historical Commission from 1998 to 2002, and started a program for school children called Faith of Our Fathers in 1976, which educated the county children about their heritage and county history.

Putman was also involved in many countywide heritage programs, and has had many special events and programs at the village, including the Hall of Fame, which was started during her tenure.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg -- the highlights of her career," Cotten said. "There is much more she has done for the Historical Society and Pioneer Village."

7/4/2004 Race against time: Local historians seeking ways, and funds, to keep hidden treasures at Pioneer Village around longer (w/info)


History is made, and history is recorded.

What then?

Bobbie Young, the director of Pioneer Village, said she and volunteer Holly Brickhouse have unearthed a vast hoard of historical memorabilia, but much of it is fading fast.


"Ever since I've had this job, I've known we needed to preserve these things because they just weren't taken care of," Young said. "I learned how to do all that, but I didn't have the manpower to do it, and I still couldn't do it if it weren't for (Holly)."

The treasure hunt began in earnest several months ago when Brickhouse began going through cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling in the archival room, and trunks that are part of displays.
"In the past, Bobbie spent her first six years here restoring the cabins," Brickhouse added. "She's done a marvelous job of fixing the cabins where they were leaking and falling apart ... but without any other help, she didn't have time to dig into the artifacts."

While the discovery is thrilling, and immensely valuable in a historical sense, it is laced with bittersweet irony.

Quilts made in the 1700s are starting to fall apart. Original, unpublished pictures of Bonnie and Clyde are developing ugly age spots, and historical documents are crumbling.

"We need money for acid-free boxes, and you have to have special vacuum cleaners to clean (the quilts) before you put them in there," Brickhouse said. "And we need money to make copies of photographs to put in the museum and save the originals."

In many cases, the inherent elements that cause deterioration are to blame, but Young said proper climate control could slow down the process while the retrieval project moves forward.

She has put an air conditioning and heating system at the top of her critical-needs list. A close second is money for a variety of acid-free storage products -- a proper place to put things until they can be cataloged.

It is a slow process, Young said, because trash is mixed in with the treasures, so every item must be handled and read.

"They kept every financial record since they started, and you don't really need financial statements from the 1950s," she said.

The Navarro County Historical Society was organized in 1956, and two years later, Frontier Home was conceived.

Today, it is Pioneer Village, complete with restored cabins full of fascinating displays.

However, the time has come for those who value Navarro County's history to step forward and support the need to preserve, restore and protect the artifacts there.

Currently, Young estimates there are about 10,000 photographs in addition to countless documents, letters, diaries, certificates and related items that need attention.

"Back then, when the Historical Society was formed, they didn't have what we have today to preserve things," she said.

Brickhouse added that many things discovered in the 1950s did not seem especially old at the time, but now that 55 years have passed, their historic value has increased immensely.

"Things we find now from the 1950s are important because in 50 years, they'll be 100 years old," she said. "I don't think they preserved them then, though, because they didn't have what they needed, and they didn't have the money."

On the positive side is the expertise of two women who have the knowledge and experience to do the job right, but they can do only so much without serious financial support.

Young has applied for a $5,000 grant to help restore some of the photographs, but even if the money materializes around the end of the year, it will not go far.

Among the more interesting artifacts is the actual champagne bottle, wrapped in a flag, used to christen the USS Corsicana which was built during WWII.

"Part of that ship was built in New Jersey, and part of it was built here through Bethlehem Steel," Brickhouse said.

A crumbling notebook created in 1852 holds hand-written recipes for hair tonic, a snake-bite cure, whitewash and blackberry wine, among other concoctions.

The vast collection of photographs includes a picture of Jane Addams when she was a student at Rockford Female Seminary and classmate of Kate E. Huey Whiteselle. The Whiteselle family is famous locally for manufacturing the bricks that still cover some of Corsicana's streets and buildings.

"Jane Adams started the NAACP, she was a member of the Hague and she was one woman who probably did the most for women and children in the United States of America," Brickhouse said. "That was between the 1900s and 1940."

A bit of Civil War memorabilia includes a newspaper article about Belle Boyd, a well-known Confederate spy.

According to an Internet resource, Boyd moved to Dallas after the war, but the story indicates she lived in Corsicana for three years and performed at the opera house.

This is only a tiny sampling of the historical pieces that will be lost forever if immediate steps are not taken to save them, Young pointed out.


Joan Sherrouse may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

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