A visit to the Heritage Park Museum of East Texas in Edgewood is the perfect setting for learning about the region’s past. The museum includes more than 20 historic buildings in a three-block village that is complete with an extensive antique artifact collection dating from the 1800s to the 1920s. Visitors can easily find it on FM 859 after crossing US Highway 80 just one block from downtown Edgewood.
The nonprofit museum was founded in 1976 as a Bicentennial ongoing preservation project. Over the decades the Edgewood Historical Society has collected, restored, and moved buildings to the park. It is operated by members and funded by donations, grants and park fees, with the mission to preserve and promote the cultural and architectural heritage of rural East Texas through authentic exhibits.
Most visitors wander around this beautiful park on their own and often remember seeing similar objects at grandma’s house.
A highlight of the park is the train depot. The original Murchison train depot is painted a golden yellow and includes crates and suitcases piled high ready to be loaded. A caboose and box car wait patiently to roll down the Cotton Belt Route named so because it crossed the heart of cotton country through Texas and Arkansas. Within the last few years, a model train display was added and it’s fun to watch the trains chugging along mountains and hills on a large table.
The Heritage Park Village is the final home for two log cabins in remarkable condition — both furnished with bits and pieces of the past. Adolphus Spradlin bought land in the Van Zandt County community of Small, Texas, in 1898 and built a dogtrot cabin. The style is common in East Texas because the breezeway in the middle was perfect for working and sleeping during the hot, sultry, dog-days of summer.
The Scott cabin with hand-hewn notched logs was built in 1874 on the Sabine River by James Scott, who lived with his wife and seven children — all born in the cabin. It is the oldest structure in the Heritage Park Museum.
Near the cabins is a log barn full of hay and corn huskers. As farmers began to dot the rural landscape, a blacksmith’s shop was crucial to repair farm equipment and horseshoes. Sunshine streams in from cracks in the walls to reveal a wagon wheel lying on a table near a wall of tools. A well-worn saddle sits quietly in the corner, its past revealed by nicks and tanned patches on soft leather. Nearby a smokehouse stands. This was essential to preserve venison or hog meat to survive a winter.
A schoolhouse was needed once the first homesteaders started families so the Heritage Museum added a one-room schoolhouse from the community of Myrtle Springs. The school is complete with restored wooden desks, books, flags, maps, and pictures of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. The school shows the stark difference of how children learned 100 years ago compared to today. One unexpected lesson learned at the school is why there are so many windows — to let in light before electricity was invented.
A rural community in Texas is not complete without a church. The Edgewood Methodist congregation built the enduring white church in 1897 and used it faithfully until 1923. Lovingly referred to as the “Little Church in the Wildwood,” it was moved to the current location in 1926 by the African American Community of the Bethlehem Baptist Congregation who used it as their spiritual center for 67 years. The polished pews and a restored elaborate organ stand proudly in this white steepled church that sits gracefully near fragrant pink rose bushes along a whitewashed picket fence.
Sunday services brought people from all directions together and soon a small village grew over time from the need for shops and trades. The old Scott’s General Store is filled with food items, dishes, rolls of cloth, and colorful spindles of thread used by farm wives to sew their families’ clothing and a few luxury items such as hard candy.
Near the train depot is a large carriage house full of antique cars and horse-drawn wagons. Not too far away is Gilliam Grocery, a former feed store which added gas pumps for the automobile that replaced the wagons. Bright orange Gulf Oil pumps rise high in the front and the inside is stocked with everything imaginable necessary for farming and that new fancy tractor.
A bright red and white candy cane sign beckons visitors toward the barber shop with faded red barber chairs — one with a child’s seat. Farmers gathered here for the latest news that was also spread throughout the sparsely populated rural community through a newspaper created in the print shop a short walk away.
A favorite place to sit and pause is in Tom’s Café. The green walls and red and white checked curtains remind visitors of cafés that once dotted Texas. In 1932, Tom’s Café was located along the newly built US Highway 80 with the hope of attracting hungry customers roaring down the road in a new car. A tattered newspaper clipping on the wall tells the story of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde duo who once stopped for a soda and hamburger.
The museum’s education program is designed for third and fourth grade students and includes guided tours of log cabins and businesses as well as different modes of travel. The sessions present a glimpse of the past and may include demonstrations by docents attired in period clothing. Guided tours are scheduled in the spring in March, April, and May; fall tours occur in September and October.
During the Edgewood Heritage Festival held on the second Saturday in November, the village museum comes alive with volunteer guides dressed in period clothing performing tasks in various buildings. It is rumored that Santa Claus visits and can be found in the Spradlin Dogtrot Cabin.
When You Go
Main street is the best place to park for an easy walk to the village located on Elm Street. Museum and gift store hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon. Admission is $10 for adults or $25 for a family of five. A shaded area between the school and church includes a few picnic tables and adequate bathroom facilities. For information call (903) 896-1940 or visit www.heritageparkmuseumofetx.org.
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