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Stephen F. Austin State University

Welcome to Smith County (July 2012)

Welcome to Smith County
By Marvin Mayer

Greetings from Tyler, the heart of Smith County and seat of county government. On behalf of the entire county, I want to say how pleased we are to be a part of SFASU's Heritage Center.

In this initial submission to the Heritage Center's web page, it seems only appropriate to focus on the primary link between today's Smith County and the Smith County of the past, i.e., the Smith County Historical Society. How appropriate it is that our historical society is housed in one of the most historically significant buildings in Tyler, the former Carnegie library.

Situated on the northwest corner of the intersection of South College and West Elm streets, SCHS offers members and visitors interesting and sometimes unique paths to the roots of our communities. Enter the building through its College Street main entry and there you can begin your guided tour of our Carnegie History museum. As the tour begins, you immediately will be taken back to some of the county's earliest inhabitants, the Caddo Indians. This is merely the first of a series of 3-dimentional, life size dioramas depicting life as it was lived at that particular time. In addition to the visual images, murals help add depth to the scene. A brief printed commentary describing the scene, along with comments from your tour guide, shed more light on how the Caddos lived here in East Texas.

The next diorama depicts life inside a crude cabin as it was lived by early migrant white settlers. After that, viewers follow the "improvements" in creature comforts by seeing dioramas of life in the early 1900s. Another display shows a 1940s "modern" kitchen. Along the way, displays of relics from many different contributions to societal development complement the aforementioned dioramas. Some of the other displays include the arrival of the railroads, telegraph systems, turn of the century toys, and of course, relics and mementos from times of war.

To touch on all of the wonderful exhibits would take more space than I have been allotted, but suffice it to say, there is something of interest to anyone born in the early to mid 1900s, as well as those whose ancestors came from or lived in east Texas.

SCHS is more than just a quality museum. One of its prize attractions is its archives. Individuals, architects, writers, historians, students all have access to the archives' collections of early maps, deeds, school records, newspapers, phone books, city directories, and much more. If all of the information being sought isn't found here, at least the researcher will have made serious inroads toward finding the lion's share of that information.

Smith County Historical Society was founded in 1959 by individuals and business firms dedicated to discovering, collecting, and preserving data, records and other items relating to Smith County's history. There are many ways the Society is meeting its goals. I'll discuss some of them in future articles. For now, and for more information about tours, please visit the Society's website,