The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 169
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million investment in courthouse rehabilitation offered by the legislature and his-
torical commission, dozens of successful county grant applicants have produced
requisite courthouse master plans containing priceless historical information that
appears nowhere else. Someday, hopefully, the Texas Historical Commission will
gather those details into the sweeping volume that should rightfully surpass all
efforts to date.
The need for new volumes every few years on the seemingly narrow topic of
Texas county courthouses proves that temples of justice are not a static building
type. These landmarks, old or relatively young, are constantly changing, and for-
tunately the latest trend, of rehabilitation rather that demolition, is change for
the better. If you've visited only one, or reached the aficionado's goal of 254, it's
time to tank up, gather your maps and courthouse books, and visit them again.
Austzn JAMES STEELY
The Soul of a Small Texas Town: Photographs, Memories, and Hzstory from McDade. By
David Wharton. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Pp.
xix+298. Preface, acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN o-
8061-3178-0. $39.95, cloth.)
McDade, Texas, is a small unincorporated town of about three hundred people
located thirty-five miles east of Austin and eight miles southeast of Elgin in
Bastrop County. It began in 1869 as a railroad town, experienced a period of law-
lessness that climaxed with a Christmas Day shootout on the main street in 1883,
became famous for McDade Pottery in the first half of the twentieth century, ben-
efited somewhat from a nearby army base during World War II, and provided a
local market for the sale of cotton and melons. Today, McDade is known for its
annual Watermelon Festival, a community celebration that began in 1948.
As a graduate student in photography at the University of Texas, David
Wharton began to visit McDade in 1984 to sharpen his skills in black-and-white
photography. He discovered that his pictures lacked human dimension and he
consequently began to probe into the history of the town. His curiosity led even-
tually to a doctoral dissertation in American studies at the University of Texas
and to the publication of the "McDade Project." One-half of the book, presented
in coffee-table format, consists of black-and-white photographs with extensive
captions; the other half contains the history with emphasis upon the 198os, the
period of Wharton's involvement. To serious academics such formats often sig-
nal a dilettante effort, but here the format is necessary for the photographs.
Moreover, this is a serious and revealing study.
The human dimension behind the flat pictures uncovered by Wharton
exposed complex community fracture lines influences by religion, attitudes
about alcohol consumption, ethnicity based upon German heritage, age, gen-
der, kinship, and time of arrival in town. Bitter, divisive contests resulted in
regard to the Watermelon Festival and school board elections. For readers with a
nostalgic view of small-town life as placid and caring (as in the country-western
song about Luckenbach, Texas), this may be a jolting revelation, but for those
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/177/?rotate=90: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.