PALO PINTO – The Palo Pinto County Historical Association kicked off the summer season with an open house last weekend at the Old Jail Museum Complex in Palo Pinto.
It was just a sampling of how citizens and visitors can spend a summer day learning about the early life and times of Palo Pinto County.
The Old Jail Museum Complex will be open this summer Wednesday through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. PPCHA President Nancy Hall said the museum is an ideal place to visit during the summer, especially for those who might want a break from the city or the lakes.
“We want people to come out,” she said. “It’s so hot, but no matter what the weather is, somebody will be out there.”
The hottest days of summer may be considered “dog days,” but that’s all the more reason to visit the museum and see how early pioneers kept cool by using architecture and building design to create cooler environments.
For instance, Hall said, “In the jail, you’ve got 18 inch walls of sandstone.” In addition she called the old Mosley Cabin, a dogtrot style home, “a very efficient building – the air blowing through cooled it.”
All under one roof, the dogtrot house had a center breezeway that separated the kitchen and living area, where family would congregate, from the sleeping area. The shaded breezeway drew a wind current and provided a cooler area for sitting and relaxing.
The Mosley Cabin’s breezeway was well used at last weekend’s open house – those standing in it would gravitate to the coolest place where the breeze passed through.
Hall said the house came from the Mosley Ranch, on land south of Mineral Wells in U.S. Highway 281 near the Brazos River. The Mosley Ranch later became Magic Valley Ranch – owner Meriam Calabria donated the cabin – and then Alice Walton’s Rocking W Ranch.
“This was really used as an extra place for people to stay,” Hall explained about the cabin. She added that the original ranch had a lot of families that lived on the property and would share crop part of the land and would also help with the overall ranch operations.
Fort Black Springs is another good example of a cool building in the summer. The thick, stone-walled architecture provided the dual benefit of protecting as well as staying cool.
On the other hand, Hall suggested that visitors learn about life in those days by hanging out for just a little while in one of the smaller outdoor jail cells. She said these were used to transport criminals to Huntsville, Texas, on the back of an open wagon.
People stand outside in those hot metal cells and “get thinking about transport to Huntsville,” she said.
Hall said children learn a lot about early Palo Pinto County life from a visit to the complex. She said kids who visit, like the 280 Houston Elementary students this spring, realize from seeing the cabins that pioneer cabins had no modern-day amenities, like no indoor commodes.
“It dawns on them that there are no bathrooms,” she said. Earlier this year, she said each of the 280 kids got a chance to ring the large bell and imagine what it could be used for on a ranch or in a city.
The idea for the school trip was sparked during a privately held Rotary Club dinner at the complex, when Houston Elementary principal Kelly Wilkerson saw the potential for her students.
Wilkerson said the students had a wonderful learning experience.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it accessible to the public,” said Hall, adding that events, like the Rotary Club dinner, help “show people what life was like on the prairie in the 1880s.”
“This was a pretty rugged life,” she said, adding that the county’s early Anglo settlers had to “draw water from the river and haul it back. They had to be pretty self sufficient and always aware of the fact that they were strangers out here and that people didn’t care for them.”
Several PPCHA projects are in various stages of completion.
The association just finished reworking the old Johnson Cabin. They took the interior back to the logs.
“It was a project we had thought about for a long time,” Hall said of the mismatched bedroom and living room. She said the bedroom had chinking between the logs, as it originally had, but the living room had been updated with wall paneling and a lowered ceiling. Cracks and spaces allowed squirrels in and she said there was evidence – acorns tossed about – that they played on the bed.
Hall said that by removing the paneling and ceiling they took the Johnson Cabin back to the original wood and raftered roof. They also got rid of the critter entrances, “which we would not have been able to see if they hadn’t taken that ceiling out.”
The county’s oldest church building is the newest addition for the association. Workers have labored in the heat to rebuild the stone foundation and repair some of the wood and it’s almost done.
“Later in summer we will dedicate the church,” said Hall. “Hopefully we can look forward to something really big so that becomes part of the complex.”
“Our goal is to develop the property with the church on it,” she added. Also they are examining “where do we stand, where do we want to be and what do we think we can do with the whole town.”
A new sign outside the Old Jail Museum Complex main gate offers two phone numbers for groups that might want a special tour outside open hours. These are (940) 769-2503 and (940) 659-2555.
“We’re pretty much responding seven days a week,” said Hall.
Staff writer Libby Cluett can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3422, or firstname.lastname@example.org.