Preserving Van Zandt County
Heritage Park of East Texas
Edgewood Historical Society
P.O. Box 765
103 E. Elm Street
Edgewood, Texas 75117
The 19th and early 20th centuries are now part of history: Few people are alive who can recall what it was like to live in 1920, and no one remembers 1874 or 1898. But, thanks to the Edgewood Historical Society, people today can see and walk inside restored structures that reflect what life was like a century ago or more.
Arranged as a rural village, with shops, residences, a train depot, jail, barns, a church, a school, and yes, an outhouse, the Heritage Park Museum of East Texas, located in downtown Edgewood, is another world---one that would be familiar to our ancestors, and maybe to some of us who remember working, shopping, studying and going to church in buildings from an earlier time.
The mission of the Heritage Park is to preserve the cultural and architectural heritage of rural East Texas through authentic exhibits, which cover several blocks. The museum, owned and operated by the Edgewood Historical Society, a 501C-3 charitable organization, was founded in 1976 as a preservation project, part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the United States. In the more than 40 years since that time, the museum has grown into a major tourist attraction in Van Zandt County, a teaching resource for schools in the region, and a center of community involvement. It is also a charming place to walk and admire the work of pioneers and craftsmen of the past.
The museum features 21 authentically restored and furnished structures, built between the 1880s and the 1920s. More than buildings are on display: Visitors can view a restored train caboose and boxcar, the old Van Zandt County Poor Farm water tower, and old carriages, automobiles and a historic fire engine.
The museum continues to add to its collection, with work on the Poor Farm water tower just finishing up and the latest project---restoration of the Poor Farm calaboose (jail)---in full swing now. Anyone aware of a historic structure in Van Zandt County that is in danger of being destroyed should contact the Van Zandt County Historical Commission or the Edgewood Historical Society.
Funding for the Heritage Park Museum of East Texas is provided through donations, grants, dues, memorials, school tours, and the annual Heritage Festival, held on the second Saturday in November. Several of the Park’s buildings, as well as its village square outdoor setting, are available for rental for special events.
Van Zandt County is fortunate to have such a resource as the Heritage Park. Below are pictures and information on some of the structures at the museum. We encourage everyone to go see the Heritage Park for yourselves, up close. It’s a great resource, right in our back yard.
Things to See at Heritage Park Museum of East Texas
(Just a sampling: Not enough room here to show all structures at the Museum.)
Spradlin Dogtrot Cabin
The Spradlin log house was built in 1898, four miles north of Edgewood, by Adolphus Spradlin. It is built in the “dogtrot” style common in East Texas: Two one-room cabins were covered with a single roof and the space in between the cabins became an open breezeway. The house retains much of the furniture built by Mr. Spradlin.
Above right: Exterior of Spradlin cabin.
Below right: Living room of Spradlin cabin.
Church in the Wildwood
The 1897 “Church in the Wildwood” (a common Methodist name for rural churches) was the house of worship for the local Methodist congregation until 1923, at which time it became the Bethlehem Baptist congregation until 1993. The building was moved to the Park and restored in 1994. It serves as a frequent venue for weddings.
Above left: Church in the Wildwood.
Below left: Organ of the church, circa 1900.
Below: Church interior.
Barber Shop, General Store, Tom’s Cafe
The Museum features streets and a village square setting. One row of shops in the square features the City Barber Shop, which was located in Edgewood on Front Street for decades, since before 1900. The current building is a reconstruction, with period barber shop equipment and furniture. Next door is the Scott’s General Store, built in 1926 on the Scott Farm, 10 miles north of Edgewood, to provide groceries and supplies to sharecroppers. On the right of the store is Tom’s Café, a famous (or infamous) business built in 1920 on Houston Street in Edgewood. The building was relocated several times over the ensuing decades, becoming a bar sometimes known as “The Bloody Bucket” because of the fighting and drinking that went on there. Tom’s was visited more than once by the bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. Tom’s eventually was called Bucks Inn. It closed in the 1940s.
Above right: Street with shops, left to right: City Barber Shop, Scott’s General Store, Tom’s Café.
Right: Barber shop interior, original shoe shine chair.
Below: Barber shop interior.
Scott Log Cabin
The Scott Log Cabin, built in 1874, is the oldest building in the Park. It was built by James Scott on the Sabine River, and was continuously occupied until 1937. It was originally only one room but a lean-to kitchen was later added. Mr. Scott and his wife raised their seven children in the cabin. It was moved to the Park in 1986.
Above left: Scott Cabin, exterior. On porch are (front) Pattizo Humphries, Executive Vice-President and one of the founders of the Heritage Park Museum, and (back) Cindy Cooper, Heritage Park member and volunteer. Both are members of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission.
Below left: Scott Cabin, interior, main room. (Served as living room and bedroom.)
Van Zandt County Poor Farm: Water Tower and Calaboose
Texas law in the late 19th century authorized counties to create and run poorhouses or, in the case of rural communities, poor farms, where persons who were destitute and without anywhere else to go could live, supported by the county. Those living at a poor farm were expected to work, if they were able, in the gardens or in other jobs to support the farm. Residents also included petty criminals working off their penalties or fines.
The Van Zandt County Poor Farm, located approximately four miles south of Canton, operated from the late 1880s until 1928. After the closure of the facility, most of the buildings were dismantled, but the calaboose (jail), built in 1901, remained standing. The Poor Farm water tower, although collapsed, stayed onsite.
Both structures were moved recently to the Heritage Park and are being restored. The water tower is nearly complete. The calaboose restoration is ongoing, yielding some interesting tidbits. Graffiti (mostly inmates’ names) carved on the old interior board walls is, in some cases, still readable. Do you have an ancestor named Jorsh Carpenter, R.J. Lay, or Tim Hinson? These gentlemen immortalized themselves on the walls of the calaboose.
When the Poor Farm Calaboose is completed, the Heritage Park will be a 2-jail facility! The brick Edgewood Calaboose is very popular with Park visitors.
Above Right: Poor Farm Water Tower (Murchison Train Depot in background).
Middle right: Poor Farm Calaboose, after closure, in painting by Mabel Sides, county resident. (Special thanks to Jane Hunter for providing painting.)
Lower right: Heritage Park Museum President Stephen Goode shows visitors the interior of the Calaboose, still under restoration.
Below: The Poor Farm Calaboose, mid-restoration.