Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

April 24, 2009

<font color="red">Still beam-ing with pride</font>

Old school with unique auditorium part of tour

By Libby Cluett

What’s so important about the old Mineral Wells High School, one might ask about the three-story building included in Saturday’s Palo Pinto County on Tour.

Recently, architects visited the site and were amazed at what they saw, according to Jessie Teddlie, executive director of the 50 Year Club, the entity that owns the campus of historic buildings.

Improvements, clean up and restoration activities are under way, according to Teddlie. On Saturday Palo Pinto County on Tour visitors will have the chance to see what’s been done and learn about future plans for the Old High School building, the 1937 outdoor amphitheater built by the Works Progress Administration, the Little Rock Schoolhouse and the Lillian Peak Home Economics Building – now being used as the Creative Art Center.

“Each of these have historical value and the entire complex is being submitted as a Texas/National Historic District,” said Teddlie.

• Notable in the high school is the auditorium with it’s balcony suspended by one large beam.

“We have been told by Texas Historical Commission visitors as well as architects submitting bids for the renovations that this structural design for a high school auditorium was specifically unique and structurally amazing in terms of the balcony,” said Teddlie.

Also at the 1914 high school is a restored classroom. Learn plans for future plans to restore each floor of the high school.

“We are currently accepting bids from architectural and engineering firms, approved by the Texas Historical Commission, to complete the first stage designs, drawings and cost breakdowns for renovations to the building,” Teddlie said.

• Next to the high school, visitors can see the 1884 two-room Little Rock Schoolhouse. This served as Mineral Wells’ first public school and is the oldest existing school building in the city. The building’s stones were hauled in by mule-drawn wagons from Rock Creek and hand cut on the site. The building was listed as a Texas Historical Landmark in 1985.

This rock building is now a museum dedicated to the preservation of the history of the city.

• The Lillian Peak Home Economics Building, also on the high school campus, is listed as the first, separate building of its kind in the state of Texas. The home economics building resulted from an interest of the State of Texas to build a new home economics building in 1933, according to Teddlie. The building was opened for use on Feb. 21, 1934 and had visitors from around the state and nation viewing the one-of-a-kind facility.

“Lillian Peek was the state supervisor and she chose the site in Mineral Wells,” said Teddlie, who added that originally the district planned to include this in the remodeling of an existing elementary school. “But plans were changed and a cottage with a home atmosphere was built.”

The building consisted of a reception hall, living/dining room, bedroom, bath and a foods and clothing laboratory. The Depression delayed the plans, but with the help of WPA workers – who worked one day for pay and one day free – the building was completed, Teddlie said. The cornerstone was laid by the Freemasons and reads A.F. and A.M. Grand Lodge of Texas 1933.

Since 1996, the Mineral Wells Art Association has used the building for meetings, classes and to display their artwork.

• A 1937 WPA-built outdoor amphitheater was made using rocks from the Ward School, which burned leaving behind only the rocks. A THC advisor visiting last summer called this is one of few WPA outdoor amphitheaters built on a school campus.

“The amphitheater has been used by school groups and by local city groups for entertainment purposes and is an unusual structure to have built by the WPA on a school campus and on the slope of a large hill in the city,” said Teddlie.

Taking the tour

The old high school and its companion Little Rock Schoolhouse are just some of the stops on Saturday’s historical tour.

Don’t miss these stops on this self-paced driving tour, some of which are on private property. And enjoy the wildflowers along the way. Guides will be at each location:

• In Palo Pinto, tour the Palo Pinto County Jail Museum Complex, run by the Palo Pinto County Historical Association and started with the 1882 jail building. Visitors will learn about the county’s early history, architecture and daily life through its stone and wood buildings and many artifacts, including the Crossland Carriage and farm implements.

• Just West of Palo Pinto enjoy shady, scenic Lovers Retreat – one of the most scenic spots in the county. This historic picnic area, on private land and no longer open to the public, has enormous rocks towering above the banks of Eagle Creek.

• The Johnson League Ranch and Mausoleum is also the host location of the tour’s all-day reception. It was the home of W.W. Johnson, who was active in the development of the county’s first coal mine. The 1905 ranch features newly restored ranch buildings and the restored children’s mausoleum, complete with a pine coffin. This smaller mausoleum was washed away by the flooding creek, according to PPCHA President Nancy Hall. The Johnson family still “resides” on the ranch – the parents and two children lie in the large stone mausoleum overlooking the ranch on a hilltop.

• Two Strawn homes dating back to the 1870s. The Thomas House, which is new to the tour, is a 1919 Priairie-style pioneer ranching home, designed by T.J. Galbraith, the architect of the Hall of State at Dallas’ Fair Park. The Stephen Bethel Strawn House, began in 1874 by the city’s founder, is a large two story structure with verandas on both levels.

• The Old Belding Ranch House, which has seen seven generations of Belding’s Henry Belding first came to Palo Pinto County from Hot Springs Arkansas in 1859. See vestiges of the original house, which consisted of a one room log building.

Tickets for Palo Pinto County on Tour are $10 for adults and $2 for children ages six to 15. On Saturday tickets are available at each tour location. Sponsoring the event is First State Bank of Mineral Wells.