The event was part of the Downtown Tyler Alliance’s annual Holiday Open House. The Goodman-LeGrand Museum, Cotton Belt Depot, Gallery Main Street, Smith County Historical Society and the McClendon House opened their doors to visitors, and each had its own holiday theme.
Patrons were greeted by carolers singing classic Christmas songs and friendly volunteers handing out hot, cider-like wassail on the front porch of the Goodman-LeGrand Museum.
Inside, eyes gravitated toward a towering tree tucked into the crevice of a spiraling staircase, while instrumental music flowed from the old home’s music room.
Re-enactors played the roles of the home’s former inhabitants, dressed in period clothing.
The home was purchased in 1866 by Samuel Goodman and sold to his son William in 1872. He and his wife raised their four children there, Patricia Heaton, the museum’s director and curator, said.
Their youngest daughter Sallie Goodman LeGrand lived in the home, and she and her husband were very active in the Tyler social scene, Ms. Heaton said. Following her death, she left the home to the city with specific instructions to turn it into a museum.
“I’m thrilled people are enjoying her home now,” Ms. Heaton said.
Brynn Anderson, of Bullard, visited the home with a group of seven home school students in the Tyler Area Christian Home Educators.
“It was too good to pass up with it being free and all decorated,” she said. “It’s incredible, and the kids really enjoyed it. I think it is a great gift the city gives every year.”
Mrs. Anderson said the children talked about how small the beds, waists of clothing and the shoes were and how difficult it must have been to get down the narrow staircase with a hoop skirt on.
At the Bonner-Whitaker-McClendon House, Anne McClendon Jones joined re-enactors in telling the home’s history.
Ms. Jones has many memories in the historic home, which was built in 1887, because she lived there until she was 12.
The land the home sits on was purchased by Judge M.H. Bonner from the state’s first governor, J. Pinckney Henderson, and was gifted to his oldest daughter as a wedding present in 1878, said Neill Ginn, board member for the McClendon House Executive Board.
When Bonner’s daughter Maddie died at a young age, the home was sold to her younger sister Annie and her husband Sidney McClendon.
Ms. Jones said to her the home feels less like a historical marker and more like her childhood home. She said she remembers sliding down the curved banister, playing house on the stairs, and going through the books in the library.
She said her grandfather Sidney McClendon used to hide $1 bills in random books to encourage the children to read.
At the Cotton Belt Depot, volunteers discussed the impact the railroad had on the growth of East Texas and supervised boys with wide eyes looking at the thousands of miniature train pieces in the building.
Paul Royal, volunteer with the Cotton Belt Depot Museum, said the line opened in 1877 and ran from Tyler to Big Sandy. He said with the help of a grant, the line expanded to Texarkana and Waco. But it really began to grow in 1885 when the first oilfield was discovered in Corsicana, which ran along the Cotton Belt Line.
In 1910, the railroads began working with farmers to grow different crops in the area, Royal said. He said this is where Noonday onions and Jacksonville tomatoes came from. At the time, farmers in Tyler grew peaches, but after a blight in 1912 they switched to roses.
“The railroad helped farmers by giving them plants,” he said. “They were looking for crops to run on the railroad.”
He said the company was technically called the Saint Louis Southwestern, but because it ran through states known for cotton, it was always referred to as the Cotton Belt Line.
After Tyler resident Clyde Bragg died, his family donated his large collection of miniature trains to the museum.
The small building houses more than 200 train engines and 1,600 cars, along with photos of the Cotton Belt Line, which was centered in Tyler.
At the Cotton Belt Museum, Heidi and Mark Evans said they rounded out their ninth wedding anniversary learning about the history of the town.
Mrs. Evans said they also visited the McClendon house, art gallery and the Goodman Museum.
She said each home was decorated beautifully, and the evening was like an early Christmas present.
“It was nice of Tyler to come up with this corporate festive celebration for Christmas,” she said. “It was wonderful to take it all in.”