Heritage, Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 1991 Page: 18
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Heritage Yifage i e useum
By Dottie Johnson
Historical preservation comes in many
forms, each a vital and precious link with
There are the structures that have
withstood the ravages of time and are being
restored to new usefulness. There are the
people who lived or worked in these
structures and gave them life, people we
want to know better because they are part
of us. There is the spoken word, the tales
told and remembered and passed on from
generation to generation, testament to an
earlier culture. There is the written word:
the diaries, the letters, the documents, and
the histories that bring it all together. And
there is education, the mixing of all these
ingredients into a rich batter of learning
that tells us who we are, where we came
from, and perhaps, where we are going.
These are the obligations of historic
preservation to which the Tyler County
Heritage Society is devoting its energies at
Heritage Village Museum in Woodville,
which the society owns and operates in the
public trust for all the citizens of Tyler
County who made it happen.
Here, in a small East Texas village
atmosphere, Heritage Village offers as true
a picture as possible of life from Texas' revolutionary
days to the turn of the century.
And it shares these reflections not only
with tourists, who come from across the
nation and beyond, fascinated with Texas
history, but with the children in area
schools, giving them the opportunity and
the facility for a kind of hands-on history
seldom offered in the classroom.
18 HERITAGE * WINTER 1991
And the emphasis on this type of
presentation has all happened in just three
Heritage Gardens was originally assembled
on Highway 190, a mile west of
Woodville, by the late Clyde Gray, a Beaumont
artist, who made friends with his
adopted Tyler County neighbors by
painting many of their historic landmarks,
both on canvas and on tiles.
Soon people were asking him where
they could preserve a building or an artifact,
and the collection began, beginning
with the Tolar Cabin, which is still the
focal point of the Village. This three room
log cabin, built by Robert J. Tolar for his
bride, Versie Durham, in 1866, was moved
in tact from Hillister, eight miles south of
Woodville. It is the only fully authentic
building in the Village, and as such bears
the Texas Historical Medallion.
Over the years, other buildings were
erected, some using timbers from the original,
such as the Z.C. Collier Store, which
once met the general needs of Town Bluff,
a bustling river community that served as
the county seat before Texas became a
state. It was through Town Bluff, which
offered a ferry across the Neches River, that
hordes of immigrants from Mississippi,
Alabama, and Georgia poured into Tyler
County in the 1840s and 1850s.
Some buildings were specifically built
to the period to hold authentic interiors,
such as the Pluck Post Office, which once
served a small community across the line
into Polk County, and the Blacksmith
Shop, which was in business in Colmesneil
in the late 1800s and is now the home of the
East Texas Blacksmith Alliance.
Clyde Gray was a talented entrepreneur.
He knew how to get attention,
and he built the Gardens into a major tourist
attraction. People flew into Woodville-as
they still do-just to eat at the
Pickett House restaurant, which he and his
wife Bill started in an old schoolhouse
brought across the county line from
But time took its toll. As the years
passed and Gray's energies waned, the
once-thriving Heritage Gardens that
people told their children about began to
resemble a past no one really wanted to
It was on this downhill swing, late in the
summer of 1987, that the Tyler County
Heritage Society heard that Clyde Gray
was interested in selling the Village and
was in fact talking to outside interests. It's
quite possible that Gray did that just to get
the Heritage Society to take action. Whatever
the reason, it worked.
Seven weeks after the Society membership
agreed to go for it, the asking price of
$125,000 had been raised, the result of a
mammoth fund-raising campaign that
enveloped the entire county and spread
through Southeast Texas.
A large thermometer was installed on
the courthouse square with a plea to "Have
a Heart and Save the Village." Each day the
monetary readings increased slowly but
surely. Senior citizens rattled brightly
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 1991, periodical, Winter 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45422/m1/18/: accessed July 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.