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You just never know…

March 15, 2012

The discovery of Texas State Highway 19 was an unintended consequence of a long-scheduled painting demonstration.  Last year, I accepted the invitation to do a gouache painting demonstration for the Hideaway Art League in Hideaway, Texas.  At the time, I really expected that Nell would be retired, and that we would be completely free to travel.  That obviously didn’t happen, and we ended up here, at Woodland Lakes RV Park, just north of Houston.  What was already going to be a 2 ½ hour drive from McKinney, Texas had become an almost 4 hour drive from Conroe/Woodlands.  I had fleetingly considered cancelling the demo, but it had been on their calendar for months already, and I felt a strong commitment to keep this particular date.  You can read about the demonstration here:

So we got up early yesterday morning, loaded the demo gear in the car, hopped onto I-45 and headed north.  Just past Huntsville, we transitioned onto Texas State Highway 19 toward Tyler, Texas.

What a nice change to get off the Interstates and drive through the countryside on a state highway.  We could actually slow down and get photos of houses that surely had stories to tell, historic churches right on the street.  We would never have known there was a huge lake between Coffee City and Noonday.  In fact, we would never have known there were towns named Coffee City and Noonday.

And we would never have stopped at a gas station in Crockett, Texas and, well… first things first.  Nell had taken advantage of a previous stop, so it was my turn to use the facilities while she topped up the gas tank.  Went inside, and two oriental ladies behind the counter (I’m thinking mother and daughter) pointed around the corner.  I headed that way and they called me back, “Mister!  Mister!”  I stepped back to the counter and they handed me a key on a keychain.

I went back around a corner, past some slot machines (who knew they had slot machines in Crockett, Texas?), and in a dimly lit alcove found a door marked “Restroom” with a padlock on it.  I’m talking Master lock.  With some concern now about Nell outside pumping gas, I hurried along and after replacing the lock on the door, arrived back at the counter just as Nell was coming inside to pay.  This was a strictly pay-inside operation.  So… there was a little apprehension.

When we had driven up to the gas station, we had noticed a very large brick structure across the street.  It sat at the top of a hill, and despite its crumbling, deteriorating condition, it had a certain majesty about it.  We had wondered aloud what it might have once been.

As Nell came into the station, she pointed to a very tall man who followed her in, and said, “Why don’t you ask him?”  So I asked him about the building across the street.  He was most happy to tell us that it had been a school for black girls, built in the 1800s, that there had been another part of the school on the corner adjacent to the gas station, that that building had at one time become part of a hospital, and that he had been born in that very hospital, right there across the street.  To give this some kind of timestamp, I should note that the property he pointed to no longer contained a structure, and was a thick forest of mature pine trees.  He was very animated as he told us all this, seemingly pleased that total strangers had taken the time to ask about a part of his town’s history – and his own heritage.

Mary Allen Seminary, Crockett, Texas

So… if we had not kept our commitment, if we had not moved to the Houston area, if we had not chosen to take the state highway rather than the interstate, and if we had not stopped for gas in that very spot… we would never have known about the Mary Allen Seminary in Crockett, Texas.

We would never have met this tall, robust, middle-aged black man with the booming voice (ever kick yourself for not getting a name or taking a photo?).  Interestingly, even the woman behind the counter, who had been stone-faced earlier, broke into a grin, joined in the conversation, and even pulled out an old newspaper clipping about the building from around 1965.

Apprehension had turned into delight… at the discovery of a historical treasure, and at the warm fuzzy feeling we got from seeing total strangers light up, simply because we were interested.

You just never know…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Sellers permalink
    March 15, 2012 8:59 pm

    Sounds like a great outing !! I love discovering a name of a Texas town that I have never heard before !!! Happens often, and I hope it never stops. (My favorites are Dimebox and Gun Barrel !)

    • March 15, 2012 9:14 pm

      Nell and I talked about that on the drive, Steve. It’s easy enought to look them up these days and see how the names came about, but it’s a lot more fun to just speculate.

  2. William R Moore permalink
    March 15, 2012 9:30 pm

    Good story, Ralph. “Blue Highways,” 1978 by William Least Heat-Moon or “Travels With Charley,” 1962 by John Steinbeck are both great reads about journeying across America if you haven’t already read them.

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