Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990 Page: 29
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By Paul J. Gately
Many historic and ancient trees and an
undetermined number of sites bearing prehistoric
Indian artifacts-adjacent to the first
state park designated in Texas-have at least
temporarily been spared a utility company's ax
while area residents attempt to secure a listing
on the National Historic Register. That listing
would permanently protect this small portion of
Coryell County and preserve it for the historical
and educational benefit of all.
The effort to prevent McLennan County
Electric Cooperative, Inc. from placing utility
poles along two stretches of a historic Texas
roadway was made by landowners whose property
is bounded by the Old River Road, which
runs from state highway 107, a few miles south
of Oglesby in Coryell County, through the Leon
River valley and into the back of Mother Neff
State Park, Texas' oldest public park.
Initially Clay Davis-a landowner and the
principal of Bruceville-Eddy Elementary
School-attempted to bring his concerns about
the placing of poles along that road to the
management of the electric company. "I told
Ron Golden-co-op manager-that the Old
River Road was given to the state of Texas by
these landowners and that Governor Neff
dedicated that road and the park to the memory
of his mother," Davis said. "In the fifty-one years
of that road's existence, it has never had any
type of power or telephone pole on it anywhere.
I told him the power company already owns and
maintains right-of-way, for those lines behind
my property, but he chose to ignore me."
Before any action could be taken to prevent
the digging, the co-op had constructed about a
half mile of line; topped many ancient trees; and
virtually destroyed a native pecan tree estimated
to be 225 years old. In addition, subsequent
court testimony indicated that pre-historic artifacts
had surfaced at sites where holes for power
poles had been excavated.
Records of the Texas Department of Highways
and Public Transportation show that the
road was likely the first feeder or farm-to-market
road constructed in the Central Texas area.
Neff, who was president of Baylor University in
Waco at the time, arranged for federal funds to
pay for construction, land donations for rightof-way,
and state workers to build it.
According to Neff s letters, now housed in
Baylor's Texas Collection, he set aside the land
for the first state park. Kent Keith, curator of the
collection, said Neff had intended that the road
be considered part of that land allotment and be
protected in its natural state.The power
company had obtained verbal approval from
one county commissioner to begin the project
in June, but after Davis contacted Coryell
County Judge Douglas Smith and Commissioner
Hiriam Davidson, the court at its next
meeting rescinded any permission given to lay
power lines and required the utility company to
stop construction until a study could be made.
State Representative Bob Melton agreed to
help Clay because "I have my roots right out
there where he lives. My old family's place is less
than two miles from the very spot. But my main
concern was that the landowners had not been
given due process by the utility company in
their effort to register the location. As well, I
was aware of hundreds of ancient Indian
artifacts out there which could easily have been
lost to a bulldozer," said Melton. In fact,
subsequent study by Melton's staff produced
evidence that during the 1930s the Old River
Road area yielded many pre-historic burial
sites-one of which is preserved on display at
Baylor's Strecker Museum and some of which
are on file at the Smithsonian Institution, in
Washington, D.C., according to Strecker
curator Calvin Smith. Smith and archaeologists
from the Texas Historical Commission
visited the sites which were being disturbed
by the utility construction, and located at least
eleven pre-historic Indian activity sites which
should be dug.
Then, as Davis and his neighbors were
beginning the process of registry, the power
company announced that despite letters from
the Texas Historical Commission requesting
cessation of the utility work and letters from the
chairman of the county historical committee it
would finish the job. After receiving the letter
late on a Friday, Davis retained Gatesville attorney
Sandy S. Gately, armed with the letters and
the language of the National Historic Preservation
Act and the Texas Antiquities Code,
formulated a temporary restraining order which
Judge Bob Cummings signed late on a Sunday.
The sheriff delivered a copy of the order to
work crews early Monday morning, but because
the original petition had not been filed by the
clerk, they ignored the order. A filed copy soon
arrived, and the work stopped. Five days later
Cummings held a day-long hearing on the issue,
and at the end of the proceeding he issued a temporary
injunction which stopped all work based
upon the historical, archaeological, and scenic
value of the area and because of the clandestine
manner in which the power company tried to
complete the job before Davis and his neighbors
were allowed due process of law.
Attorneys for the co-op argued that Davis
had no legal grounds to file for the injunction
since none of his personal property was damaged
by the construction. But Mrs. Gately pointed
out that the Antiquities Code allows for legal
standing for any citizen concerned about the
damage or destruction of any public property of
historic or archaeological importance.
Cummings said he would set a final hearing
on the matter just as soon as the power company
complied with his order to cease and desist construction;
apply for all proper permits before
construction is resumed; and adhere to the
guidelines outlined in the Texas Antiquities
Code, which govern obtaining permission to
excavate in sensitive areas.
Davis is currently preparing the application
for registry and the National Registry Committee
is slated to meet in October.
Paul Gately is chief of staff for State Representative Bob
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Price: $25.00 ea.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1990, periodical, Autumn 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45429/m1/29/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.