Van Zandt County Historical Commission
Discover Our History
The Van Zandt County Historical Commission is a group of volunteers, appointed by the county Commissioners Court, to promote the history of the county and to help preserve historical sites.
Read and discover the history of our county and help us celebrate the past. Click on the toolbar at the top of the page to find featured preservation projects around the county, the histories of our towns and their historical/community preservation contacts, interesting old stories about Van Zandt County characters, and more.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Contacts info at bottom of this page.
For useful links to other websites, check out the Our Towns page.
Jose Francisco Calahorra Historical Marker Rededication: Honoring an 18th Century Leader
Members of the Historical Commission, county officials and many others gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of an 18th Century Spanish missionary in East Texas, on November 27 at the Fruitvale Community Center. A replacement historical marker was dedicated to Jose Francisco Calahorra y Saenz in a lunch gathering and ceremony sponsored by the Old Dallas-Shreveport Road Preservation Association, the Van Zandt County Historical Commission and the Jose Francisco Calahorra Chapter of the Daughters of the American Colonists (DAC).
Commissioner Chad LaPrade of Precinct 1 spoke at the event, expressing his admiration for the work of the groups and volunteers who made the historical marker dedication possible and who help preserve local history. Karen Hall, Regent of the Jose Francisco Calahorra DAC Chapter, spoke of her appreciation of all that the Van Zandt County lineage societies and historical associations have accomplished in keeping the memory of our forebears alive. Elvis Allen, of the Dallas-Shreveport Road Association (and Chairman of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission), gave a brief history of Calahorra’s life and work. He also praised the work of DAC member Sherrie Archer in coordinating the historical marker ceremony.
Father Jose Francisco Calahorra y Saenz was a member of the Franciscan order within the Catholic Church. In the early- to mid-1700s he visited the native peoples of Spanish America, particularly in the area that later became East Texas, as a missionary and occasional representative of the Spanish government. He earned the respect of his fellow Spaniards and the native tribes, and wrote extensively of his travels through the region. His writings are among the earliest regarding the area that later became Van Zandt County and surrounding counties.
A historical marker dedicated to Calahorra had stood for many years before being vandalized. The ceremony on November 27 dedicated a replacement marker in the Fruitvale area.
Program for the dedication
At the new historical marker, L-R: Carrie Woolverton, Chad LaPrade, Benja Mize, Lawrence Greer, Elvis Allen, Ronnie Hall, Karen Hall, Suzie Bass, Lou Ann Everett, Lona Hobbs, DeWayne Mouliere, Sherrie Archer, Linda Mays, Jane Hunter, Tammy Mouliere, K. Jenschke
Commissioner Chad LaPrade speaking at lunch ceremony
Karen Hall, Daughters of American Colonists, Jose Francisco Calahorra Chapter,, speaks at lunch.
Sherrie Archer, of DAC and VZ Historical Commission, with the Calahorra historical marker.
Elvis Allen, Chairman of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission, gives history of Father Jose Francisco Calahorra.
2024 Calendar: Available Now, only $5!
2024 Van Zandt County Historical Commission Calendars are here! This year's theme is Getting Around in Van Zandt County, highlighting Van Zandters and vehicles (many vehicles being of the critter-drawn kind). Celebrating our past, in all areas of the county, the 2024 Calendar has hundreds of snippets of local history in the various days of each month. A great gift!
The Calendar is being sold at many cooperating stores and businesses around the county. You can also order it by sending a check ($5 for each calendar, plus $2.00 each for shipping) to:
Van Zandt County Historical Commission
P.O. Box 251
Canton, TX, 75103
For more information, email the Historical Commission at:
We appreciate your support!
Van Zandt Historical Commission gets state award, for 15th year in a row
For the 15th year in a row, the Van Zandt County Historical Commission (VZCHC) was given the Distinguished Service Award (DSA) by the Texas Historical Commission, recognizing the VZCHC’s exceptional service in historical education and preservation.
On June 21, 2023, the Van Zandt County Commissioner’s Court highlighted the VZCHC’s achievement at its regular court meeting. County Judge Andy Reese presented the DSA certificate to Elvis Allen, Chairman of the VZCHC, and numerous members of the VZCHC that were present.
Distinguished Service Awards are given annually by the Texas Historical Commission to county historical commissions that document well-rounded programs of work that preserve and promote Texas history. The awards are generally announced in June, recognizing the county’s work of the year before. Traditionally, county judges present the state DSA certificates to CHC awardees.
Among the VZCHC’s activities that helped win the award: 1. extensive work to preserve a large collection of old photographs of the county and to make the images available to businesses wanting to highlight county history, 2. providing an educational tour of the Van Zandt County portion of the historic Dallas-Shreveport Road, 3. a public lecture by Chairman Allen on Civil War Reconstruction and the Freedman’s Bureau, and 4. support for efforts to honor the memory of various early settlers of the county.
Fifteen years of recognition by the state is an honor which the Van Zandt County Historical Commission strives to deserve, according to Chairman Allen. He thanked Judge Reese and the county commissioners for their strong support of the VZCHC’s work.
Distinguished Service Award presented by Van Zandt County Judge Andy Reese.
Top Row, L-R: Precinct 1 Commissioner Chad LaPrade, Pct. 2 Commr. Virgil Melton, Pct. 3 Commr. Keith Pearson, Pct. 4 Commr. Brandon Barton.
Bottom Row, L-R: VZ Historical Commission members Linda Mays, Suzie Bass, Brenda Kellam, and Lawrence Greer, VZ County Judge Andy Reese, VZ Historical Commission Chairman Elvis Allen, Historical Commission members Linda Dennis and Cindy Cooper.
175th Birthday Party, VZ County: Here's to History!
At left: Birthday Cake served at party, with Van Zandt map.
At right, L-R: Genealogical Society President Carrie Woolverton and Historical Commission Chairman Elvis Allen at historic documents display at the 175th party.
Van Zandt County celebrated its 175th birthday, with the help of its citizens, elected officials, and many organizations, chiefly the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society, at the Blackwell House Museum and the Sarah Norman Library in Canton on March 25. Carrie Wilson Woolverton, President of the Genealogical Society, coordinated the event, which combined fun and solemn ceremony. The Van Zandt County Historical Commission was a sponsor.
Edgewood Mayor Stevan Steadham greeted the crowd with opening remarks, and Father Marc Dobson of St. Justin’s Episcopal Church, Canton gave the invocation..
State Senator Bob Hall and State Representative Bryan Slaton read a resolution they had written for the celebration, and Van Zandt County Judge Andy Reese read a proclamation passed by the Van Zandt County Commissioner’s Court honoring the county; he also told the story of the life of Isaac Van Zandt, the early Texas settler for whom the county is named. Commissioner Chad LaPrade and Sheriff Joe Carter also attended, along with many members of the county’s historical organizations and lineage societies, including Elvis Allen of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission.
Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett told many inspiring stories of the county's impressive history, and emphasized the contributions of the many veterans from Van Zandt. Mayor Everett traded good-natured jokes with Wills Point resident Herschel Lybrand, who brought up the story of the "county seat war" between Canton and Wills Point in the 19th Century.
Pat Thibodeau, Genealogical Society member as well as a member of many lineage societies, gave a presentation on Elvira Engledow, a very early settler of Van Zandt County, who endured hardships and raised children and grandchildren, including a granddaughter who later owned the Blackwell House.
Attendees got free tours of the Blackwell House, the oldest residence in Canton. There was food and a display of historic maps and documents at the library, where the audience visited after the ceremony.
Docents for the museum provided assistance prior to the celebration and were on hand to give tours to the public. Sarah Norman Library staff also were of great assistance in preparing for the event. Carrie Woolverton thanked all the volunteers and organizations who made the Van Zandt County 175th birthday party a success.
Audience at Blackwell House Museum listens to VZ County Judge Andy Reese.
L-R: State Senator Bob Hall and State Representative Bryan Slaton speak at the celebration.
Volunteers & participants: L-R: Carrie Woolverton, David Hudson, Suzie Bass, Jan Crow, Cindy Cooper, Pat Thibodeau, Linda Dennis, Sherrie Archer, Betty Wilson, Lou Ann Everett.
Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett speaks. (Carrie Woolverton, seated at right.)
Historical Photos: Part of Our Mission
The Historical Commission maintains a collection of historical photos of Van Zandt County. The vast majority of the collection has been assembled by Commission Chairman Elvis Allen. Other generous contributors have added to it. The photo archive includes original old photos, many well over 100 years old, as well as copies made of old photographs. The public has seen many of the images on the Van Zandt County Historical Commission Calendar, sold every fall. The Calendar is now on sale at locations throughout the county. (See article below.)
If you have old photos, drawings or other images of Van Zandt County (1960 or earlier) and wish to donate them or let us copy them, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.
L-R: Commission members Linda Mays, Suzie Bass and Elvis Allen reorganize the historical photo collection.
Historical Commission Sponsors Students' Tour of Edgewood Historical Park
Students and parents from the Van Zandt County Wild and Free Home School Association toured the Heritage Park Museum of East Texas on October 26, 2022. Everyone had a great time and learned a lot--not a surprise at the Heritage Park, a museum of which Van Zandters are justifiably proud. This three-block historical park in the heart of Edgewood is a preservation marvel, with historic buildings and memorabilia (many from Van Zandt County, most from East Texas) placed to give visitors a feel for how early Van Zandt residents used to live. Log cabins, shops, barns, a church and school; all sorts of buildings, restored and furnished, can be toured. There's even a historic jail, not to mention a beautiful replica of the first Van Zandt County Courthouse of 1850. More information and the Park's hours can be found at: heritageparkmuseumofETX.org
The tour was arranged by Linda Dennis, a member of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission, as part of the Commission's goal of increasing historical education in the county. Ms. Dennis and the Commission also arranged a tour for the Wild and Free kids at the Wills Point Depot Museum in May.
Above: Van Zandt County Wild and Free Home School Association students in front of the General Store at the Heritage Park Museum of East Texas in Edgewood.
At right: Kids and parents at the Park.
Driving through History: Dallas-Shreveport Road Tour
Chairman Elvis Allen of the VZ Historical Commission led a tour of the historic Dallas-Shreveport Road on Oct. 11, 2022. The day-long trip, organized by Commission member Lona Hobbs, was sponsored and attended by the STARS (Seniors Taking Active Roles in Service) group of the Lakeside Baptist Church. Members of the VZ Historical Commission also attended. The church provided a comfortable bus, and the group had lunch midway through the tour at the Lumber Yard Cafe in Edgewood.
The Dallas-Shreveport Road is a historic route, originally a Native American trail going east-west through Texas and Louisiana. More than 30 miles of the road runs through the north part of Van Zandt County. The road eventually became the main road from the key port of Shreveport west into North Texas. Many county historical societies, including Van Zandt's, are preserving the memory of the road's history by putting up markers to show where the original road went. In Van Zandt County, the Old Dallas-Shreveport Preservation Association was established in 1993 to further this work. Historical markers and special signs mark the key sites along the route.
Chairman Allen took the group to all the major sites, pointing out many landmarks that have all but disappeared, and many that have not, including the salt flats near Grand Saline. The route highlights many of the oldest settlements in the county. While the road has been changed, with the re-routing of old roads and the addition of modern highways, parts of the old road still have the feel of an old pioneer trail.
Above: Example of signs that mark the Dallas-Shreveport Road.
At Right: Lona Hobbs, Historical Commission member and organizer of the tour, with Elvis Allen, who gave information along the route about the history of the Dallas-Shreveport Road. (Ms. Hobbs is also a member of Lakeside Baptist Church, which provided a bus for the tour.)
Commission Chairman Speaks on Reconstruction
Van Zandt County Historical Commission Chairman Elvis Allen spoke to the STARS (Seniors Taking Active Roles in Service) group on September 15, 2022, regarding the Reconstruction Era, the tumultuous time immediately following the Civil War in the southern states. Chairman Allen’s speech focused on the Freedman’s Bureau, which helped freed slaves make their way in the post-war society.
As told by Chairman Allen, the Freedman’s Bureau was created by Congress in 1865 to help provide help such as job training, education, and assistance finding lost relatives to Black persons who had been in bondage. Most of the work of the Bureau ceased around the late 1860s due to lack of funding and political support, but the Bureau did essential service while in existence.
STARS is a group within the Lakeside Baptist Church in Canton, Texas. Members meet regularly to share fellowship, promote missions and listen to educational programs. The Reconstruction speech event was organized by Commission member and church member Lona Hobbs.
To see the full speech on Reconstruction by Chairman Allen, check out our News and Events post, or click here.
Elvis Allen, Chairman of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission, speaks to the STARS group at Lakeside Baptist Church about Reconstruction.
Celebrating A Soldier, Farmer, Family Man
The Van Zandt County Historical Commission joined with many history organizations, local and statewide, to host a celebration of the life of a former War of 1812 soldier, Texas Revolution participant and Texas Ranger, on Jan. 29, 2022. The Van Zandt County Genealogical Society, the Former Texas Rangers Association, Daughters of 1812, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and other organizations put on the event, which drew a large crowd to Asbury Cemetery, outside Edom. (The unseasonably warm weather helped!)
Adrian Anglin was born in 1796 in Virginia, and fought in the War of 1812. Having survived the war, he tempted fate by moving west for land. He lost his first wife and, while living in Illinois, he married Phebe Parker. He moved to the Republic of Texas in the early 1830s with a large wagon train that included many members of the Parker family, settling in Limestone County and helping to build Fort Parker. He became one of the first Texas Rangers in 1835.
In 1836, Fort Parker was attacked by a band of tribes, including Comanches, and numerous settlers were killed. Anglin's sister-in-law, Cynthia Ann Parker, was captured in the raid and spent most of the rest of her life with the Comanches.
Anglin participated in the Texas Revolutionary War, providing food and supplies, and as a result he received a headright of land in Henderson County, part of which later became Van Zandt County. He settled in the Edom area as a farmer, in addition to his Ranger duties. He died in 1865, about 70 years old, and is buried at Asbury Cemetery alongside his second wife, Phebe.
The Texas Rangers placed their own special marker--the Ranger Cross--at Mr. Anglin's grave, and special medallions were affixed to his gravestone by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the U.S. Daughters of 1812 to mark his service in the War of 1812 and the Texas Revolution. The January 29 event was the unveiling of these markers and a chance for the community to remember Mr. Anglin, who was a link to the early history of Texas and Van Zandt County.
For more information (and photos!), visit the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society website at vzcgs.org
Former Texas Ranger reenactors fire a salute in honor of Mr. Anglin. Color guard of the Children of the Republic of Texas, local chapter (C. Moser and H. Roberts) at right.
Elvis Allen, Chairman of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission, with Karen Wilson, Van Zandt County District Clerk.
Descendants of Mr. Anglin, by grave, with new medallions and Ranger Cross..
Overflow crowd at the Asbury Cemetery pavilion for the Anglin ceremony.
Carrie Woolverton, President of the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society and of the local chapters of the Daughters of 1812 and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, officiates at the event.
Reenactors representing the Former Texas Rangers Association, Van Zandt County Genealogical Society and Historical Commission, and several lineage societies. Ladies in front are, L-R: Carrie Woolverton, Paige Sanders, Cathy Calfy, Benja Mize, Suzie Bass.
Lt. Kenny Ray, Texas Ranger ret., speaks on behalf of the Former Texas Rangers Association.
Refreshments afterward: Cake with image of early Texas Ranger.
The past came to life on November 6, 2021 at the Heritage Park in Edgewood, Texas, as the Van Zandt County Commissioners Court held a special session to issue a proclamation dedicating two restored historic buildings.
County Judge Don Kirkpatrick and Commissioners Chad LaPrade, Virgil Melton, Keith Pearson and Tim West arrived at the event via mule-drawn wagon and proceeded to convene the session at the reconstructed 1850 Van Zandt County Courthouse--an 18 ft. square log cabin built to the specifications of the original building, which in 1850 was located in Canton. The court and many attendees wore 19th century attire, and enjoyed an old-fashioned stew lunch afterward, cooked over an open fire outside.
The event was kicked off by organizer Stephen Goode, of the Edgewood Historical Society. Van Zandt County Historical Commission Chairman Elvis Allen then gave the history of the two buildings. He explained that the 1850 Courthouse was built immediately after the county seat of Van Zandt County was changed from Jordan's Saline to Canton. The structure eventually was replaced by a newer courthouse, then many others, with the current courthouse in Canton being the county's seventh. The Commissioners Court records of the county from 1850 gave the exact specifications for how the courthouse was to be built, which made the reconstruction of the old courthouse possible.
Mr. Allen also explained that the Poor Farm of Van Zandt County, which was created to provide a place for indigent persons to live, was where the Calaboose was located. ("Calaboose" is derived from the Spanish word calabozo, meaning "jail.") The Poor Farm Calaboose, built in the 1890s, was the one-room jail where persons convicted of minor crimes, who were working off their fines, would live until they had completed their obligation to the county. The Van Zandt County Poor Farm was closed in the 1920s and the Poor Farm land was sold to the Van Zandt County Sheriff, Ira Burnett. The Calaboose was abandoned, but remained standing. In 2018, the structure was donated to the county by Ira's daughter, Ira Nell Burnett Skillman, and family, who still owned the land where the Calaboose was located. Descendants of the Burnett family who attended the dedication Nov. 6 are sisters Jane Hunter (member of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission) and Sylvia Barbee (member of the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society).
The Edgewood Heritage Festival was held on November 13, 2021. Among other activities, visitors will be able to see the new buildings, along with all the other expertly preserved historical structures at the Heritage Park, during the festival. This year's Festival was dedicated to the memory of Pattizo Humphries (who passed away in 2020), a member of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission and the Edgewood Historical Society. Ms. Humphries was a dedicated worker and promoter for the Heritage Park for many decades.
Commissioners Meet in 1850 Van Zandt Courthouse, November 2021
Arriving by Mule-Drawn Wagon
Van Zandt County Reconstructed 1850 Courthouse with Historical Commission members (L to R) Sherrie Archer, Cindy Cooper, Elvis Allen (Commission Chairman) Suzie Bass, and Van Zandt Genealogical Society President Carrie Woolverton.
Restored Poor Farm calaboose (jail) of Van Zandt County. The building had one door and one window (shown above), with an iron grate covering it.
The Van Zandt County Commissioners Court, in session in the 1850 Courthouse, presents a proclamation dedicating the historic buildings. L to R: Commissioner Chad LaPrade (Precinct 1), Commissioner Virgil Melton (Precinct 2), County Judge Don Kirkpatrick, Commissioner Keith Pearson (Precinct 3), and Commissioner Tim West (Precinct 4).
Event organizer Stephen Goode and his wife, Marianne Goode, both members of the Edgewood Historical Society, in front of the 1850 Courthouse.
Van Zandt County Commissioners Court members arrive by mule wagon. (If video isn't playing, click on triangle in center.)
Get in Touch
Van Zandt County Historical Commission
P.O. Box 251
Canton, Texas 75103
The Van Zandt County Historical Commission has a large collection of historical photos and drawings of County people and places. If you have old photos or artwork of historic Van Zandt County (or Texas) that need a home, please contact us! We are happy to accept copies that we can preserve; no need to give us originals unless you wish to.