Texas Heritage, Fall 1984

Yet, Wallisville's final end didn't come from a hurricane,
but from the government's plan to control the Trinity
River. John Middleton, in a 1983 interview with the Baytown
Sun, was quick to point out the irony in Wallisville's
final destruction. "It's ironic that the people of
Wallisville always thought the development of the Trinity
would be the key to the future, and it turned out to be
their destruction."
"People had a ray of hope that the lake would bring back
the town because originally it was to be outside the lake's
boundaries," says Middleton. But the Corps began condemnation
in 1966 "and by 1968, everyone was ordered
out. Houses were torn down or moved out. They started
construction of the lake."
Because the town was condemned before the National
Environmental Policy Act was passed by Congress in
1971, the residents had no legal means of fighting the
Corps' actions. In 1973, the Sierra Club, the Audubon
Society and area land owners filed suit against the
project, claiming it was environmentally unsound. By
that time the Corps had already dug up the majority of
the town site for use as fill dirt in constructing a levee.
The federal courts ordered an environmental impact
study, which eight years later concluded that the area
contained unique archaeological and historical materials.
In 1977, after the Corps held public hearings and decided
to build a smaller reservoir, Middleton pledged funds to
rebuild the courthouse and possibly rebuild the townsite
as a historical center. Under the Corps of Engineers' revised
plans, the Wallisville Heritage Park would lease
the site for a nominal fee.
Since its inception as a non-profit organization in 1979,
the Wallisville Heritage Park has had two goals: plans for
restoring the old townsite, and aiding archaeologists in
excavating the El Orcoquisac Archaeological District.
This district, located on the National Register of Historic
Places, is north of Interstate 10 from the townsite.
Although rebuilding Wallisville is the group's most ambitious
plan, John Middleton says it's the secondary concern.
"Our primary concern is to document and preserve
the cultural heritage of the area. We are gathering and
preserving papers, pictures, and records of historical
value relating to the area. We are fortunate that within a
small geographical area of the Heritage Park, valuable
records of human habitation covering a period of 3,500
years are preserved in the form of archaeological sites."
On the north side of the Wallisville townsite are over 200
Indian middens, a 1754 French trading post, and a 1756
Spanish mission and presidio. This area represents an
unprecedented opportunity to expand man's understanding
of his past because of the significant cultural resources
which remain undisturbed here. Working toward
these goals, the Heritage Park has purchased an old
schoolhouse and several other significant bulidings. Because
of increased public interest and participation, the
Heritage Park constructed a new headquarters complex
last year, which is located on Interstate 10 just east of the
Trinity River.

Wallisville's Courthouse was one of the finest public buildings in Texas. Built in 1886 at a cost of $6,000, the courthouse was torn down in the
1940s for the value of its bricks. Courtesy of John Middleton

From the river, the C. R. Cummings Export Company was an impressive sight. In its heyday, the mill sawed over eighty thousand feet of lumber a
day. Courtesy of John Middleton

In the summer of 1980, an archaeological team from the
University of Texas at San Antonio, led by Ann Fox,
determined that the Wallisville site held an abundance of
information on a critical period in the development of
Texas. The report reads, "The period in which this particular
town was at its peak of importance (ca. 18901906)
is one which has had relatively little attention
from Texas historians, most of whom have concentrated
on the more exciting days of the revolution and the
founding of the state."
"We are interested in all the history of the area, not just
the history of Wallisville. You can gather history in any
building, it doesn't have to be the old courthouse," says
Middleton. "But think of it," he says, "to see the walls
of the old courthouse go up again, . . . then the jail, . . .

and the old church and school." All the artifacts would
be displayed in a museum in the rebuilt courthouse.
"When you walk into the townsite, it would be like stepping
back in time, everything would look like it did
eighty years ago," says Middleton. Yet his greatest
dream is to make the past live again, and to heal the
wounds of history that time has wrought on Wallisville.
The Wallisville Heritage Park is located approximately
forty miles east of Houston on Interstate 10, just east of
the Trinity River Bridge. Individuals interested in assisting
the Wallisville Heritage Park Foundation are encouraged
to contact the Park office (409/389-2252).
Jim McElgunn is a writer and Marketing and Communication
Specialist from Houston. He is a Member of
IABC.

17

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed October 20, 2014.