Huntsville Main Street Project and SHSU
On Saturday (July 21), downtown Huntsville will become the new home of Walker County's oldest log cabin. In the process, a piece of county history will be preserved, history students from Sam Houston State University will get a hands-on history lesson and downtown will gain a potential tourist attraction.
Team Up To Preserve Historic Cabin
One of Walker County's pioneer families, the Farris family, offered to donate the cabin along with $1,000 to the City of Huntsville nearly ten years ago. At that time, the project was considered a daunting one at best with no available land for relocation, no additional money and little public support for preserving the cabin. Working cooperatively, Huntsville Main Street and the Sam Houston State University History Department assembled volunteers to dismantle and reassemble the cabin, raised money and in-kind donations, and located a prime spot to relocate the cabin onto the square in Huntsville.
The Robert B. Smither Estate has agreed to allow the cabin to be placed on one of two vacant lots on the east side of the square for a minimum of ten years. After the cabin is placed, a courtyard, pocket park and adjoining parking lot will be made available for public use. The proposed site is historically significant because it is the site of Huntsville founder Pleasant Gray's log cabin trading post.
Walker County Historical Commission chairman James Patton expressed his enthusiasm for the site and project. "The new location is perfect. We're not only saving one of our most treasured structures, we're helping to restore part of our community's heritage by placing the cabin on Pleasant Gray's original trading post site."
The cabin was widely viewed as lost to neglect and deterioration unless a concerted preservation effort could be mounted. Its remote location nearly a mile off FM 1791 on a dirt road about 15 miles west of Huntsville made access to the cabin difficult. For most of its recent history the structure has been used to store hay and provide shelter for cattle.
"People in Huntsville have been talking about saving the cabin since 1982," said project coordinator Caroline Crimm of the SHSU History Department and Main Street Advisory Board who named the project Cabin Fever.
"Through the generosity of the Farris and Smither families, SHSU and the City, we've finally gotten where we need to be to make the project happen," she said.
On Friday (July20), two of Crimm's graduate and undergraduate university history classes will spend the day removing the side sheds and roof of the cabin in preparation for relocation on Saturday. The following week, students will help reconstruct the roof. Students will be supervised by Stuart Cox, the architect and preservation expert for George Russell, and Carroll Tharp of Fernland to insure an accurate restoration of the cabin.
"University students involved with the project this summer will conduct primary research in family letters, local deed records and wills at the Walker County Courthouse," said Crimm.
"They will also learn how people built cabins and lived during the years of early Texas, as well as modern techniques of preservation and restoration of log cabins," she said.
The Research and Sponsored Programs Department at SHSU has committed $5,000 toward the project including the publication of a historical journal compiled by Crimm's students that will detail the history of the cabin, Farris family and the new site. Home mover Howard Long has agreed to donate a portion of the moving cost to the project.
"From day one this effort has been about working together for something positive," said Main Street Manager Shawn Lewis. "We've had representatives working on the project from the Walker County Historical Commission, Huntsville Beautification Committee, Huntsville Parks Board, Huntsville Arts Commission as well as members of the Farris and Smither families and area preservation architects."
The City will maintain the grounds with the Main Street office coordinating use of the cabin. A number of uses are being considered for the structure including a downtown visitors center possibly in conjunction with a local volunteer group who would sell indigenous crafts such as quilts, baskets, and other local goods. Several groups are currently being considered for staffing the facility. The Huntsville Convention & Visitors Bureau has agreed to help keep the cabin stocked with tourist information and supplies.
When the park area is developed, Lewis believes the site will be a favorite for locals and tourists alike. "I see birthday parties, picnics, and people gathering to enjoy what could be the most attractive green space on the square," said Lewis, adding that the cabin, pocket park and adjoining public parking area are important components of the City's long-term downtown redevelopment plan.
The placement of a log cabin on the site was called for in the City's Streetscape Master Plan created in 1991 and approved by City Council that same year. The Streetscape plan was developed to guide downtown revitalization efforts and has been closely followed since its creation.
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City of Huntsville Media Contact: Shawn Lewis
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
July 19, 2001
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