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Re-opened Houston County museum welcomes public

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Dorothy Harris, president of the Houston County Depot Museum board, recently showed museum visitors—in addition to many other items—a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was the main vehicle used to extinguish a fire at the former Crockett Hotel in 1973 and is now on display at the museum.ALTON PORTER | HCCDorothy Harris, president of the Houston County Depot Museum board, recently showed museum visitors—in addition to many other items—a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was the main vehicle used to extinguish a fire at the former Crockett Hotel in 1973 and is now on display at the museum.ALTON PORTER | HCC

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – The Houston County Depot Museum is back open and invites the public to come visit the historical items exhibition facility, view its display items and learn about the history of the county.

Dorothy Harris, president of the museum’s board of directors noted, in an interview with the Courier, that it was closed over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and structural damage caused by February’s severe winter storm.

However, the museum reopened for its 2021 season July 9. It is open Friday and Saturday each week, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. “We’ll be open until it turns cold; that could be November or December,” Harris said.

“We’re not open in the winter because we can’t afford to heat it. We have to close. I wish it was where we could (be open in the winter) but we only go on donations. We’re usually open each year from about April through November or until the first really cold spell.”

The former 1909 International-Great Northern Railroad Depot, located at 303 S. First St., in Crockett, is the home of the museum.  “We’re always looking for volunteers to help us,” Harris said. “We currently have four.”

Harris said that this year’s opening was delayed, partially by Winter Storm Uri. “We had damage when the snow hit. It had damaged three rooms, the sheetrock—everything. So, we just got it repaired and put back together. All of that has been redone,” she said.

Museum volunteer Patsy Stokes added “We had water damage up here and all this (in one of the museum’s rooms) got wet. So, we were shut down for a good while. We’re still trying to get back.”

In an email message, Stokes also stated “We had a good bit of damage caused by frozen water pipes. We don’t have many volunteers and it took a lot longer to get ready to open (this year) because of that.”

Concerning what the museum has to offer and what she wants the public to know about it, Harris said “We house Houston County history the way life was back in the beginning. They can get a history lesson because it’s history.”

Harris said the late Eliza Bishop, who was known as the county’s historian as well as for other accomplishments, first acquired the proposed museum many years ago “but it didn’t really open until 2009.” At that time, “I became president and I set all of this up,” Harris said. “Before, it was just in boxes that had gone out and had been stored at everybody’s house for the remodeling because in 2000 they started remodeling it.

“And they finished (remodeling) it in 2005, and it just sat here until 2009. I wanted it to be something that people could come see. When we set up, people started donating things other than junk. We’ve acquired a lot of stuff since we opened up to the public.”

Harris said the museum has had visitors from various parts of the US and some from other parts of the world. “They come from all over and it’s amazing,” she explained. “We’ve had them from all over—(including) Cuba, Puerto Rico, England. It really blows my mind.”

Harris’ message for members of the public is: “I would like for them to come and visit us and see the lifestyle of Houston County and how life was back when it was first started and learn some of the history of the county and the town (of Crockett). We’re the first county (in the state).

“And we have the copy of the petitioners to make it the first county. And then, we have a copy of the decree making it the first county. And it was named after Sam Houston. We’re named after Davy Crockett (in the city of Crockett). He never called himself Davy. That came with the movie.”

In her view, one of the main items on exhibit at the museum is a framed space shuttle item that contains a collection of commemorative pins and a medallion representing all 135 missions of America’s historic Space Shuttle Program, Harris said. The impressive, framed collection of celebratory pins was donated to the museum by former NASA CSC Manager Kenneth L. McDonald, of Crockett, in 2016.

Another item on display that Harris considers as a main one is a former Crockett Fire Department fire truck that was used to help put out a fire at the former Crockett Hotel on the downtown square in 1973.

Elmer Beard, who drove a fire truck and helped put out the hotel fire, and his twin sister, Delmer Woolley, were visiting the museum when the Courier interviewed Harris and Stokes.

“I was in a different truck getting oil changed and they had just got through (when the fire call came in),” Beard said. “And I jump in (the other) truck and ran up there. I was the first one in the Crockett Hotel when we got the call. I tried to make it to the top floor and couldn’t make it.”

Other items that rank high on Harris and Stokes’ lists of items to see are a many years old John Deere tractor, which was loaned to the museum by the late Bill Sharp; a 175-year-old sewing machine; a rocking chair that Sam Houston used to sit in; and the museum’s military room.

An interesting item on display features information about the late Howard Wooten, a Black Tuskegee airman and ace pilot from this area, who fought and was killed in World War II, Harris said.

She said her most favorite items at the museum are a peach witching stick, which was used in the past to locate underground water streams so that wells could be dug, and a display of the late Ben Chamberland’s drug store liquor sales and related records taken during prohibition in Crockett in the late 1920s. 

Drawing attention to a few of the many other items on display, Stokes pointed out old tools people used for farming, gardening, lawncare and other work. “You wonder, ‘How did they get so much done back then?’ Stokes said. “We have all these modern electronic things right now. This is what they had.”

Harris and Stokes showed the Courier “the first phone booth from the first phone company in Crockett and the county. “It didn’t have a pay phone; it just had one with no numbers,” Harris said. “And this was the switch board (a telephone company console unit established by John Loch Cook in 1910).”

Stokes called attention to several items, including old fashion women’s hair dressing equipment; two handmade dresses from many years ago; a replica put together by a group of school students depicting the 1838 Edens-Madden Massacre by Indians in the county; and the museum’s coal mine room which contained ledgers and other items.

Stokes pointed out many names that were inscribed on bricks on the exterior of the former train station building by many visitors who came up to it throughout the years. “That’s one of the things we decided to call attention to,” Stokes said. “All up and down here where there are bricks people, throughout the years, have written their names.”

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Houston County government supporting summer events

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Members of the Houston County Historical Commission, pictured with the Houston County Commissioners, were presented a Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission for their outstanding service during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.  (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Members of the Houston County Historical Commission, pictured with the Houston County Commissioners, were presented a Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission for their outstanding service during Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Houston County government officials have shown that they have been and are in support of summer concerts and other performance events in the county by granting funds to entertainment sponsors.

Members of the county’s commissioners court voted to approve requests for funding from the Hotel Occupancy Tax Fund to three entertainment sponsorship organizations at a regular meeting of the court Tuesday, July 27.

The commissioners approved granting $3,000 to Salmon Lake Enterprises LP to assist in covering expenses incurred by putting on the Camp Rock Fest (Pitmasters Edition) held in Salmon Lake Park, in Grapeland, this past weekend.

In addition, the commissioners granted $2,000 to sponsors of the 84th World Champion Fiddlers Festival, which is scheduled to be held in Porth Ag Arena, in Crockett, Friday-Saturday, Sept. 24-25.

The commissioners voted to grant Piney Woods Fine Arts Association (PWFAA) $3,000 to help cover expenses being incurred by sponsoring three concerts to be held in the Crockett Civic Center next month.

The events are a Marshall Tucker Band concert scheduled Friday, Aug. 6, an Exile Band concert to take place Friday, Aug. 20, and a Kevin Costner and the Modern West Band concert slated Friday, Aug. 27.

Concerning the upcoming Costner and band Aug. 20 concert, Ann Walker, the PWFAA’s executive director, said, “We’re very lucky to get him (Costner); I think he’s going to be quite shocked when he pulls into Crockett, Texas.”

Walker added, “People are coming from everywhere. There’s not a hotel room available for that day. We’ve made national news in our part of the world for this—for bringing him. We are sending out emails to everybody from out of town of things to do, places to stay, places to eat…. We’re paying Kevin more money than we’ve ever paid, anybody and it paid off,” she said. She said people are coming from states as far away as Pennsylvania to attend the show.

Historical Commission recognized for service

The commissioners delivered a 2020 Distinguished Service Award to the county’s historical commission from the Texas Historical Commission. The award was presented to the Houston County Historical Commission “in recognition of its active and well-balanced preservation program.”

Wanda Jordan, chairperson of the county’s historical commission, told the county commissioners and other meeting attendees, this marks 15 years in a row that the county historical commission has been presented the award by the state historical commission—even including last year despite the shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We actually think that we contributed 1,520 hours to the county and a lot of it didn’t get recorded last year because a lot of our people continued to work at home,” Jordan said. “We can keep the office open three days a week consistently and sometimes four. It depends on how many volunteers we have.

“So, having said that, we’re always looking for volunteers. So, if anybody has any time, come over (to the office); we’ll put you to work.

“We do like to re-emphasize that our whole purpose in existing is to protect and promote the cultural and historical aspect of Houston County, and we’re deeply appreciative of the county for the office space we have (in the county courthouse annex building), the light bill we don’t have to pay, the internet we don’t have to pay. We understand we have a prime location and we do appreciate that.”

Jordan added “We had enough meetings last year to qualify for what the state requires; they did make some adjustments for their requirements so that we didn’t have to meet in person in order to maintain the viability because they were working with the fact that we couldn’t get workers together. So, we did not have the required number of meetings, but they let it go because they couldn’t do anything else.”

The commissioners voted to pass a motion accepting as information the fact that the county historical commission was awarded for its volunteers’ distinguished service by the state historical commission. 

In other business, the commissioners approved interlocal agreements between the county and the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Economic Development District for GIS (Government Information System) & NG (Next Generation) 9-1-1 automatic location information maintenance services for fiscal 2022-2023.

A resolution to establish newly purchased county voting equipment as the official election system for early and election day voting was adopted by a motion which carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners voted to accept a donation of 20 box fans, valued at $357, from Houston County Good Samaritan Charity to be distributed to clients of Houston County Aging Services.

In addition, the commissioners accepted negotiated interest rates with the county depository, Citizens National Bank, as authorized under Local Government Code 116.021(b) for the final two years of a four-year contract.

Certified appraisal roll values, presented by county Tax Assessor-Collector Laronica Smith were accepted by the commissioners.

The commissioners voted to approve amending the county’s employee life insurance plan waiting period to coincide with the employee health insurance waiting period of the first month following 60 days.

The county government’s elected precinct leaders voted to approve a lease-purchase for the county with BancorpSouth Equipment Finance for 13 months for a 2022 dump truck for Precinct 2 in an amount not to exceed $135,000. In addition, the commissioners approved the making of necessary budget amendments for the lease-purchase.

In addition, an agreement for a similar lease-purchase with BancorpSouth for five years for a dump truck for Precinct 1 in an amount not to exceed $130,000 was approved along with authorization for the making of necessary budget amendments.

A motion to amend a master contract with Valic for employee deductions for a 457(b) retirement account carried on a voted taken by the commissioners.

The commissioners approved a proposal for the county to submit to Texas Association of Counties for renewal of liability insurance for fiscal year 2021-2022.

And the commissioners voted to designate a 2012 county vehicle as surplus and to authorize advertising to accept bids for the sale of the vehicle.  

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Jenkines joins Latexo ISD as elementary principal

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Jenkines joins Latexo ISD as elementary principalJenkines joins Latexo ISD as elementary principalBy Alton Porter

LATEXO – Kathryn Mattox Jenkines has been hired by Latexo Independent School District officials to serve the district as principal of Latexo Elementary School.

District Superintendent Michael Woodard introduced Jenkines and the district’s five custodial staff members at a board meeting Thursday, July 15, and the Latexo ISD board of trustees approved the hiring of the new principal.

“I’m excited for this opportunity to be back in the community that I grew up in and graduated from Crockett High School,” Jenkines said. “I’ve been gone for a long time but happy to be back.

According to the district’s website, Jenkines has worked in child welfare prior to becoming an educator, and she worked in various capacities at Madisonville Intermediate School.

“We’re looking forward to having you here and think you’re going to do a great job,” Latexo ISD Board President and Position 5 Trustee Kelly Nicol told Jenkines.

The custodial staffers are Connie Easter, Johnny Hatch, Rodney Jolly, Linda Ross and Ronald Sanders.

Concerning those staffers, Woodard said, “These guys are amazing. I’m proud of you guys and what you’re doing for us. We’re glad to have you.”

Nicol added, “You guys are the first line of defense in keeping all of these kids (Latexo ISD students) healthy. It’s a real important job; we appreciate you all for doing it.”

Ross, who heads up the custodial group, has been employed by the district two years, Woodard said.

In other business, The Latexo ISD trustees voted to approve and accept the first two-thirds ($720,737) of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) funds granted to the district through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP)) Act of 2021.

The remaining allocation—one-third ($360,368) of the ESSER III funds—granted to Latexo ISD through ARP Act will be made available after the US Department of Education (USDE) releases a state application process and USDE approves Texas Education Agency’s required state plan.

The purpose of ESSER funds in general is to award subgrants to local educational agencies to address the impact Covid-19 has had and continues to have on elementary and secondary schools.

Among other meeting agenda items requiring action, the trustees approved, the district’s contracting, for the 2021-2022 school year, with Chase Network Services, LLC, which provides entities with information technology services and assists the entities in managing the services and offers solutions for related matters when needed.

The trustees approved continuing to contract with the Goff & Herrington, PC, certified public accounting firm, of Lufkin, the school district’s auditor, for the 2021-2022 school year.

A motion to approve the district’s teacher pay scale for the 2021-2022 school year carried on a vote taken by the trustees. “This pay scale is pretty much the same that we’ve had the last two years,” Woodard said. “We just added an extra step—Step 22—to it. We do have 12 teachers that fall into that range.” Step 22 provides a pay rate for faculty members who have 22 years of experience.

The trustees set dates for public meetings and related events for the district’s upcoming school year’s proposed tax rate and budget: Aug. 12, for a notice of a public meeting to discuss the items to be placed in the newspaper and a proposed budget summary on the district’s website; Aug. 23, to post a notice 72 hours in advance of the public meeting in compliance with the Open Meetings Act; and Aug. 26 to hold the public meeting to set the proposed budget and tax rate and later adopt them. Aug. 12 is the date the board’s next regular meeting will be held, Woodard said.

Another motion to approve contracts between the district and the Region VI Education Service Center were approved by a motion that passed on a vote taken by the trustees.

Cafeteria prices for the 2021-2022 school year were raised to $2.60 at the elementary school and $2.75 at the high school and approved by the trustees on a recommendation made by Woodard. Free lunches are available for some students, Woodard and Business Manager Jo Lane said, adding, “but not across the board.” 

Woodward noted that district officials have received Policy Update 117 from the Texas Association of School Boards and copies of the document, which contains amendments to be adopted and added to the district’s policy manual, are available for the first of three readings to be done by the trustees.

The trustees approved acceptance of a bid submitted by Crockett Farm & Fuel Center offering the sale fuel to the district during the upcoming school year.

Woodard reported that ERI Consulting, Inc., of Tyler, which performs environmental consulting services, performed asbestos and related testing on the district’s campuses. A cleanup was done in the cafeteria, the Latexo ISD superintendent said.

“We are asbestos-free. “We’re in compliance there. That was a total makeover. At the last board meeting, you all saw everything pointed out in the seating cafeteria. We have painted walls in there now. The floor was torn up; we went back with a gray floor and did some more remodeling there. It looks nice. There’s no more asbestos in there now.”

Asked by Position 6 Trustee Chris Morris if the entire campuses are asbestos-free, Woodard said, “We do have a few other spots, but it’s not active. They (ERI Consulting staffers) did come through and test everything and we are in compliant…. So, we’re now back to where we should be. The makeover is pretty amazing.”

The district’s Meet the Teacher event for next school year will be held, Thursday, Aug. 5, beginning at 4 p.m.

The first day of school for the 2021-2022 school will be Monday, Aug. 9.

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Constitutional sheriffs’ conference held in Crockett

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Mark Collins, playing the part of George Washington, spoke to attendees at Friday’s conference. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Mark Collins, playing the part of George Washington, spoke to attendees at Friday’s conference. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

Hargrove encourages attendees to stand up for their rights

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office hosted a public conference last Friday, themed “The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope.” 

Joint-presented by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) and HCSO, the event featured and was headed up by Richard Mack, a former county sheriff in Arizona and founder of the CSPOA and was held in the Crockett Civic Center.

Other speakers included Mark Collins, who acted out a role as special guest and the nation’s first president, George Washington; former sheriff Brad Rogers, of Elkhart County, Indiana; and attorney Michael Peroutka, of Maryland, known as a defender of the Constitution.

Conference attendees were welcomed and thanked for being at the event by Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and Hargrove, who also made opening remarks.

Topics the speakers talked about also included what law enforcement officers should and should not do in order to comply with and uphold the Constitution and Mack’s 1997 Supreme Court victory in a lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton’s administration regarding certain provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act “to stop gun control and to stop the overreach of the federal government” that violate the Constitution.

Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), spoke to area sheriffs, other law enforcement officers and public citizens, urging them to obey and uphold the US Constitution. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)Richard Mack, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), spoke to area sheriffs, other law enforcement officers and public citizens, urging them to obey and uphold the US Constitution. (ALTON PORTER | HCC)

In addition, the speakers touched on the Bill of Rights, the 10th Amendment, obeying just (constitutional) laws and refusing to enforce unjust (unconstitutional) ones, and “epiphanies and miracles” that brought them to where they are today. 

Concerning CSPOA, which invites all public citizens to become members, Mack said, “This is your organization. This is your time to work with your sheriff and public officials to restore (and live by) the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.”

As sheriff, Mack directed his deputies to follow the Constitution, he said, adding, he told them to guard it and keep their oath. “We all have the same responsibility to protect liberty,” Mack said. “Put liberty first.”

Rogers said, “The primary duty of a sheriff, from my perspective is to protect people from criminals. We do that every day. And then, we need to protect people from overreaching government. We need to be a peace officer—be a sheriff—of the people and keep your oath of office and be a constitutional sheriff.”

Hargrove called the event a “Constitutional revival” and told the crowd to learn what the Constitution states.

“We can do this peacefully if we will. And that is the goal—to take back our country, like Sheriff Mack said, for all people. Freedom; freedom first—liberty,” said Hargrove

Hargrove added, “I remember going to … school, and it was about liberty and about freedom. I have no idea if they’re teaching that anymore, but I hope they are.”

The purpose of the conferences “is to awaken us and to make us aware of what’s going on. One of the things it did for me not just here, but when I went to the conference in The Woodlands (last February with Chief Deputy Roger Dickey) is it renewed my sense of responsibility (of) the oath that I took to defend and protect the Constitution of the US and of Texas. And so, that’s the most important thing—and to protect the citizens of Houston County and to make sure their rights are not violated.

“When I got out through (the conference in The Woodlands), I felt like I’d been to a constitutional revival. If you’ve been looking at the news, you can tell we’re about to lose our country. If we lose our Constitution, we will lose our country. So, we’ve got to get it right.”

Hargrove said this is the first such conference that he is aware of that has been held in Houston County. The conference presenters “go all over the country,” the Houston County sheriff said. “It’s an effort to educate the citizens. And I hope they take something home from it.”

Asked what he hoped attendees would get out of the conference, Hargrove said, “I hope that they renew their awareness of how fragile our liberties are, and that if we’re going to stay free, we’re going to have to stand up for our rights. And we’re going to have to—peace officers not just legislators, but all the people—stand up for their rights.”

Hargrove added, the overall purpose of the conference also is to raise their (attendees) awareness of how close we are to losing our rights—to let them know that they can do something. They can contact their representatives and tell them ‘Look, we don’t agree with what’s going on; we want you to vote this way. And then, if they don’t like it, then go to the polls.

“I meant to do a study before today about how many people went to the polls. It’s always amazing how many people don’t go to the polls, but they want to complain about what’s going on. So, I encourage everybody to go to the polls and to let their voices be heard because, as Sheriff Mack and Sheriff Rogers are talking about it, our Constitution guarantees us our right to do that. And if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose it.”

“In my office, every morning, we have a prayer,” Hargrove told the conference attendees. “We pray for our community; we pray for our citizens of our county. And it’s been very exciting for the first of our seven months (in the office of sheriff) now, and the Lord is really working in your office. It’s your sheriff’s office and He’s working in it. And we’re at your service. I want you to know that.”

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Ashby named to Texas Monthly’s best legislators list

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State Representative Trent Ashby named to Texas Monthly "Best Legislators" list. (Photo courtesy Ashby's Office)State Representative Trent Ashby named to Texas Monthly "Best Legislators" list. (Photo courtesy Ashby's Office)

By Chris Edwards

AUSTIN – Like anything else in the Lone Star State, legislative sessions are given to their own, unique traditions. One such tradition that has become a standard is Texas Monthly’s list of best and worst legislators, in the wake of the Lege’s sine die.

District 57’s own Trent Ashby, who represents the state House district that encompasses Houston, Trinity, Angelina, Leon, Madison and San Augustine counties, found himself given kudos from the magazine recently.

Ashby is one of 10 named to the best list, and he called the recognition “an honor,” but said the credit really belongs to his family and constituents.

“[They] allow me the privilege to serve in this capacity,” Ashby said. “My mother instilled in me a belief at a young age that public service was a noble calling and that those entrusted with public office must serve with integrity, humility and a strong work ethic.”

Ashby has served District 57 for five terms, beginning in 2013, and currently serve as a member of the House Committees on Appropriations and Transportation. 

The profile in the magazine, which appears in the July issue, notes Ashby’s beginnings as a farm boy as a linchpin to his longevity and resolve within the House of Representatives. “Country boys will survive,” the profile begins. 

The magazine also noted his drive to work on issues such as rural broadband instead of “fighting about wedge issues such as transgender kids and abortion.”

During the 87th Legislature, Ashby co-authored the broadband bill with Sen. Robert Nichols, which was prioritized as an emergency item and passed with near unanimous support in both the House and Senate.

Texas Monthly also noted Ashby’s priorities in the last session of creating new funding streams for drug courts and reducing regulations of water slides.

“Good-natured and civil, Ashby didn’t pout about his political misfortunes. He put his head down and got things done,” the profile notes.

In the preface to its list, Texas Monthly made note of the shift from the 2019 legislative session to this year’s session, which was marked by crises. It cited the pandemic and the exposure of a mismanaged critical infrastructure as hallmarks of the session that lawmakers were up against.

Ashby is no stranger to accolades in his public service career. He has also been named an “Exemplary & Effective Conservative” by the Conservative Roundtable of Texas in 2017.

Also of note, Ashby’s colleague in the House and district neighbor, James White (R-Hillister) was named one of the state’s best legislators in 2019.

Ashby said he intends to keep up his work in the House “as long as my family and constituents allow me to serve, I’m going to keep doing what I do and fight for what I think’s right,” he said.

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