By Col Eddie Boxx
The Tolar Cabin “dog trot” kitchen remains one of the more popular venues at the Heritage Village museum. Built in 1866 and originally located with the “main house” of the Tolar Cabin near Hillister, it was moved to the museum in 1965.
The “squared-and-notch” log structure with its “mudcat” chimney represents an affluence not usually found in frontier buildings. However, after viewing, many inquisitive visitors (out of town and local) will ask the understandable follow-up question: “Where is the main cabin?”
Thanks to the preservation efforts of Ray Hensarling and his family – we can tell you the Paul Harvey-like “rest of the story.”
Originally constructed by Robert Jackson Tolar for his bride Mary Versailles “Versie” Durham, the cabin and kitchen were adjacent to each other but not connected (see painting). Understandably, the threat from wood-fueled kitchen fires along with the desire to keep the heat away from the rest of the house (especially in summer) made sense. Today, the main cabin remains in the same location – a few miles west of Hillister and situated on a ridge.
Although ownership has changed over the last two centuries, Al Pritchard ultimately saved the building in 1975. Twenty years later, Ray Hensarling (current owner and steward) and Pat Foster fully restored the cabin in 1995. Nowadays, the building is meticulously maintained and decorated and serves as a unique architectural heritage to a bygone era. Additionally, the cabin (and kitchen) represents a connection to two important Tyler county families – the Tolars and Shivers.
Robert Jackson Tolar was a nephew to Nancy (Tolar) Shivers (1813-1890), a fearless widow who moved her family via wagon to Texas in 1858 and settled 600 acres west of Woodville. According to the 1850 census, the westward move to Texas was a joint family undertaking as the Tolars lived next door to the Shivers in Simpson County, Mississippi. Located today near the Tyler County airport, the Magnolia Hills estate remains in the Shivers family. Nancy ultimately became the great-grandmother to one of the most influential politicians in Texas history – Gov. Allan Shivers. The quintessential log cabin remains identifiable to American, Texas and Tyler County history.
When Woodville’s own Gov. Allan Shivers (the ever-astute politician) was running for office (and his family’s Magnolia Hills cabin had long ago cease to exist) jokingly quipped, “I wasn’t born in a log cabin, so I built one.”
To learn more about the Tolar Cabin or to see for yourself a wonderfully preserved 1866 pioneer kitchen, please visit the Heritage Village Museum or call (409) 283-2272 / (800) 323-0389 or visit our website at: https://www.heritage-village.org.
Col. Eddie Boxx (Ret., USAF) teaches at Baylor University and writes for the Heritage Village Museum – an organization dedicated to the education and preservation of Tyler County history.
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