Cherokee County commission touts area's history

Published on Friday, 6 December 2013 00:10 - Written by By Kelly Gooch

A photograph of the current Tomato Bowl site showcases a piece of Jacksonville history.

In the photo is the old East Side School, which once sat where the stadium site is today, according to Deborah Burkett, member of the Cherokee County Historical Commission.

Ms. Burkett said the photograph was found by the historical commission and then digitized and preserved.

“This photo is taken from where the Norman Activity Center is. … It’s quite impressive to see it that way,” she said. “We have other versions of the school, but nothing like this vantage.”

The photo is one example of how the Cherokee County Historical Commission has worked to preserve the county’s multifaceted history. This weekend, pending weather conditions, the commission will host an open house event to commemorate 55 years.

As the commission prepares to mark the milestone, members share their thoughts on Cherokee County history and their work with the commission.

In addressing the county’s history, Vice Chairman Shelley Cleaver referenced Larissa College.

According to a Cherokee County historical marker brochure, Larissa College was chartered in the 1850s but “never recovered” following the Civil War and closed in the late 1860s. The school “had (a) strong science department and fine telescope for astronomy studies,” the brochure states.

Cleaver also cited former Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Brunt, who, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website, was killed in August 1939 following a traffic stop.

Brunt’s death resulted in “the largest funeral Cherokee County had ever seen,” according to a county historical commission calendar.

Overall, Cleaver said he believes the county has things to be proud of such as good school systems.

Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth McCutcheon said history preservation is the commission’s main goal, whether that’s done through videos, maps, oral history or other means.

Commission member Dr. John Ross said he always has been fascinated by history.

As far as Cherokee County history, he said roots include Cherokee Native Americans, who were driven out.

Ross also cited other things about the county, including the iron boom in the 1890s.

Ms. Burkett said she’s done more oral history videos and become involved with gravestone cleaning workshops, among other things.

She said she enjoys meeting people with interesting stories and then preserving those stories for future generations.

Additionally, Ms. Burkett said, a lot of old images have been upgraded and digitized.

“As chair of the historic photos and archives committee, I’ve been involved in upgrading our office in terms of technology, the purchase of new equipment and scanning and digitizing photos and documents, as well as conducting oral history videos,” she wrote in an email. “This work fits in perfectly with my interest in history and photography. I’ve been amazed as what I’ve learned in the process especially about pioneers, the migration west and early country schools. According to the 1850 U.S. Census, Cherokee County had the highest enrollment in the state of Texas, 986 students attended 17 schools.”

She said she was impressed to find out the number of country schools. She said she also is finding out more about her family members.

“Even with separate interests, we (commission members) are dedicated to preserve what we’re learning for other people who walk through the door,” she said.

The historical commission’s open house is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the commission office, 138 W. Fifth St. in Rusk, pending weather conditions. Call 903-683-9680 for information.