Van Zandt County Historical Commission (VZCHC) Background

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Origin of the VZCHC

Photo, above: Van Zandt County Historical Commission members: Back row, left to right:  Treasurer (and Van Zandt County Commissioner) Tim West, Lona Hobbs, Brenda Kellam, Linda Mays, Ronny Chitty, Chairman Elvis Allen, Lawrence Greer. Front Row, left to right: Benja Mize, Secretary Sherrie Archer, Vice Chairman Sandra Jones, Linda Liston Dennis, Cindy Cooper, Suzie Bass, Carrie Woolverton. Not pictured: Karen Asher, Jane Hunter, Lynn Kitchens, Tommie Jo Mayo, Cassie Sanders, Julie Gaither, Robert Gaston,.  

The Van Zandt County Historical Commission, like many Texas county historical commissions (CHCs), had its official beginning in the mid-20th Century.  The desire among Texans to preserve and protect the past was evident much earlier, however.

The first Texas National Library was created by the Republic of Texas in 1839. The State of Texas first recognized a historical site in 1856 by assisting in the marking of graves at the San Jacinto battleground.  In 1858, the Legislature bought an existing Alamo monument, built in 1841 with stones gathered from the battle site: This monument was eventually moved to the state Capitol building in Austin, but was destroyed in 1881 when a fire consumed the Capitol.  This fire also destroyed most of the Texas State Library, which had developed from the Texas National Library begun in 1839.

In 1876 the new (post-Reconstruction) Texas Constitution authorized the Texas Legislature to “make appropriations for preserving and perpetuating memorials of the history of Texas.”

The first official state historical monument, “Dawson’s Men” and “Mier Prisoners,” was placed in 1884 at the Fayette County Courthouse to honor the dead of the “Dawson Massacre” and the “Black Bean Lottery” of the Texas Revolution.  The second monument, Heroes of the Alamo, was dedicated on the south side of the newly built Texas State Capitol in 1891. Additional monuments were placed on the Capitol grounds in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Rebuilding the Texas State Library also took much effort and many years.  In 1891, Governor James Stephen Hogg appointed former Van Zandt County Judge C.W. Raines as State Librarian, a position Raines held until 1895 and again from 1899 until his death in 1896.  Raines's leadership helped to ensure the rebuilding of the Library's collection in ensuing years.

In 1909 the Legislature created the Texas State Library and Historical Commission, which collected materials related to Texas history, and marked historic sites and houses and secured their preservation.  Numerous monuments and markers were commissioned in Texas in the ensuing decades.

During the 1930s, the organizers of the state’s centennial celebration cooperated with federal New Deal programs to restore historic buildings and erect markers around the state.  In 1938, for example, a large bronze and granite monument honoring Isaac Van Zandt and his wife was placed on the Van Zandt County Courthouse lawn in Canton, where it still stands today.

In 1953, the Texas Legislature created the Texas State Historical Survey Committee to oversee state historical programs.  With the need for grass-roots organization apparent, in 1956 the Legislature authorized counties to establish County Historical Commissions (CHCs) to assist county commissioners courts and the Texas state historical offices in the preservation of our historic and cultural resources.  (The various state historical offices were eventually combined, and the whole was renamed Texas Historical Commission, or THC, in 1973.)

In 1963, County Judge Truett Mayo presided at the organizing meeting of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission.  The purpose of the Commission was stated to be: “To collect historical information, formulate programs to mark historic sites, landmarks, buildings and Civil War graves and to preserve records, archives, etc.”

In 1981, the THC created the Texas Main Street Program, affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to assist communities with downtown revitalization.  Many counties, including Van Zandt, have benefitted from this program.

In accordance with Texas statutory requirements, the Van Zandt County Commissioners Court appoints the members of the Historical Commission for the purpose of implementing such programs of a local historical nature as may be suggested by the Commissioners Court and the Texas Historical Commission.

Each county historical commission is required to “determine the existence of historical buildings and other historical sites, private collections of historical memorabilia, or other historical features within the county, and shall report the data collected to the Commissioners court.” (Vernon’s Texas Civil Statutes Art. 6145.1)

A county historical commission is authorized to make recommendations to the commissioners court concerning the acquisition (via sale, donation, etc.) of real and personal property of historical significance.  Since a county acts only through its commissioners court, real property donated to a county historical commission must be accepted by the commissioners court before such donation takes effect.  The commissioners court must approve the sale or other disposition of such real property.

Today, the Van Zandt County Historical Commission members are:  Elvis Allen, Chairman; Sandra Jones, Vice Chairman; Sherrie Archer, Secretary; Tim West (who is also Precinct 4 County Commissioner); Karen Asher; Ronnie Chitty; Cindy Cooper; Lawrence O. Greer; Lona Hobbs; Jane Hunter; Brenda Kellam; Lynn Kitchens; Tommie Jo Mayo; Linda Mays; Benja Mize; Suzanne Bass; Linda Liston Dennis; Julie Gaither; Cassie Sanders; Robert Gaston; and Carrie Woolverton.  The Van Zandt County Historical Commission has been recognized by the THC every year since 2009 with the Distinguished Service Award, for its outstanding work.

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Distinguished Service Award 2020

For the 13th year in a row, the Texas Historical Commission gave the VZCHC a Distinguished Service Award.  Above, bottom row, left to right: VZCHC members Sandra Jones, Elvis Allen and Tim West accept the award at a meeting of the Van Zandt County Commissioners Court.  (Photo by David Barber/Van Zandt Newspapers.)