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Montgomery Landmarks Offer Insight
Into County's Past

By Kassia Micek 

The Arnold-Simonton Home, at Fernland Historical Park in Montgomery, is the only structure in Montgomery County to be on the National Register of Historic Places

MONTGOMERY – Standing in the Old Methodist Churchyard with the sound of modern life whizzing by on Texas 105, it’s almost as if a historical bubble exists around the past, nearly forgotten with time.

With nearly two dozen state historical markers scattered throughout the city of Montgomery, including the only national registered marker in Montgomery County, the town is a historical treasure chest full of days gone by yet preserved for future generations.

“This town was one of the first three Anglo settlements of Stephen F. Austin,” said Brenda Beaven, Montgomery Historical Society board member. “ … This is one of the few areas that has things left over from Stephen F. Austin’s time.”

Many of Montgomery’s historical markers are within walking distance of the center of town and the Montgomery Historical Society provides a walking tour map. The society is housed at the Davis Cottage, 308 Liberty St., which Judge Nathaniel Hart Davis built in 1851 of logs cut in 1831 that were received as a legal fee.

Once the county seat, Montgomery houses the Montgomery County historical marker, located in front of the community building on FM 149 between College and Clepper streets. The courthouse, which sat on this site, had a sewing room as the county clothed its own soldiers during the Civil War.

This site also contains the historical marker for Charles Bellinger Stewart, the first secretary of state in Texas, who also signed the Declaration of Independence. Stewart served as Montgomery County district attorney and served three terms as a state representative. On the back side of the marker is a list of all secretaries of state, as well as the republic.

The third marker on this site commemorates the town of Montgomery and was erected in 1936, like many other markers, during the state’s centennial, said Bill Ray Duncan, president of the Montgomery Historical Society.

“Each marker gives a little history of the home or location,” he said. “It gives a good background history of what you’re looking at.”

The only national historical marker in Montgomery County rests in Montgomery. The Arnold-Simonton House, built in 1845, is an early Texas Greek structure that was recently moved to Fernland Historical Park, a park of historical buildings that represent the heritage of Montgomery County. The Greek revival style began to appear in Texas in the 1840s.

Several other historic houses can be found among the city’s streets and provide insight in the town’s history. The gazebo near City Hall, on Old Plantersville Road, contains maps to all the city’s historical sites, Beaven said.

The First State Bank of Montgomery, 211 Liberty St., was one of the first banks in Texas and is the oldest existing commercial building in the once-thriving trade center. The bank’s safe was once stolen and the vault still has scars from a robbery.

About a block southwest, the Old Baptist Church, 301 Pond St., and the Methodist Church, 309 Pond St. and also known as The Bells of Montgomery, sit side by side with the Old Montgomery Cemetery or Old Methodist Churchyard, located at Texas 105 and Pond Street, providing a shield between the state highway and the religious institutions.

The cemetery, seemingly forgotten in time, contains the graves of soldiers from the War of 1812, the Texas War for Independence, Mexican War and Civil War. Reuben Jonathan Palmer and William S. Taylor are buried in the Old Montgomery Cemetery. Palmer, who died in 1868, moved to Montgomery in 1856 and served as a town lawyer, in the Ninth Texas Legislature and in Secession Convention, 1861. Taylor, who died in 1869, was a San Jacinto veteran.

A block south of Texas 105, on Old Plantersville Road is the New Cemetery, which contains the graves of Charles B. Stewart, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and was the first secretary of state, as well as the wife of Gen. Memucan Hunt, a Texas soldier and statesman. The cemetery also contains the graves of Texas army soldiers and Civil War veterans.

The New Cemetery was founded in 1868 to relieve the Old Montgomery Cemetery, Beaven said. Shortly after that, the tale is that four horse thieves came into town and, on adrenaline from their recent steal, created chaos in town. However, men from where the horse was stolen came into town after the thieves and a gun battle ensued west along College Street. When it was all over, the four outlaws were dead, but were refused burial in the Old Montgomery Cemetery as, although it was public, it was considered a church cemetery. Therefore, the first three burials in the New Cemetery were outlaws. The fourth was buried nearby, Beaven said.

The Texas Historical Commission approves historical markers once a year, said Sarah McClesky, historian for the commission’s marker program. The submitted location must be at least 50 years old and have historical significance and/or be architecturally significant.

To date, there are about 15,000 historical markers across Texas, McClesky said, with nearly 275 applications submitted annually.

“People can learn a lot about people who live in that area before them,” McClesky said about why people should visit the historical markers. “If you didn’t stop at that marker, you might not know it even existed.”


The Courier

January 22, 2012

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