Reunion Campgrounds, Est. 1888
By Deborah L. Burkett
It's summer. Get up. Get Out. It's time for travel, for new adventures and the unexpected. That's exactly what I did recently and was astounded at what I found.
Driving home from Waco, I saw an unassuming sign on the highway and on a whim decided to take the two lane country road. Seeing nothing but a few houses and pastureland at first, I thought this excursion will be a waste of time. But once I found 'it' the discoveries began.
I discovered a campground where in 1888 Confederate Veterans began to meet and continued to do so until the end of World War I. As many as 7,000 people attended the annual reunions held in late July or early August. Veterans from across North East Texas, many from Cherokee County camped there. Traveling on horseback, in wagons or arriving on special trains, their resolve was not only to socialize but to honor family, friends and comrades.
The camp place is where Jacks Creek enters the Navasota River in Limestone County. Archeological evidence suggests the earliest campers were nomadic hunter-gatherers more than 5,000 years ago but the camp is most known for the Confederate Vets who met here. In 1983 the area was designated a state historic site.
In 1892, veterans and families began buying lots at $5 each to pay for the first 20 acres of land purchased by Camp 94 UCV for a sum of $200. Each buyer received a deed for camping privileges at the reunions. Added to the 20 acres secured in 1892, were tracts purchased from several individuals including African American families who had worked the fields as former slaves or who had migrated to the area after Emancipation.
At the Visitor Center I discovered a document that listed three of my ancestors from Cherokee County as having purchased land for camp sites--J.B. Long and J.M. Long bought lots # 246 and # 247; J.A. Long acquired waterfront property.
In 1920 during the Mexia oil boom, wildcatter and devotee of Confederate history Albert E. Humphries offered to improve the grounds. He built a pump house on Jacks Creek to supply his wells while adding a Pure Oil Company clubhouse and bathhouse. Touring these grounds with site supervisor, Jim Goodall, I photographed remnants of lavish stone fireplaces constructed from river rock. Was it just my imagination; were fossilized dinosaur eggs embedded into the structures? Regardless, these stones spoke to me of ancient times.
Today all sorts of groups use the campgrounds for a gathering place. That day a motorcycle club held sway under the pavilion. Built in the late 1800s and now recognized by the National Register of Historic Places for its unusual architecture, this wooden pavilion with its huge dance floor must have been quite a sight when a hoedown was in progress.