Stephen F. Austin State University

History Center & Museum - 25th Anniversary (September 2013)

History Center & Museum - 25th Anniversary
By Jonnie Miller - NCHC Chair

The Newton County Historical Survey Committee became an active organization in 1963 with Pauline Hines appointed chairman by County Judge Theron Gandy. The committee met in January, 1968 and voted to begin a project of collecting items of historic value for a county museum to be housed in a second floor room of the county courthouse. Judge Adams gave permission for the use of the courthouse. The first event sponsored by the committee was the dedication of a marker for Thomas C. Holmes, a Revolutionary War soldier who lived in the Newton County area.

The site of the center is on land bequeathed to the county by Anne Howard along with money to build the Civic Center which houses the center, the library, the auditorium and the health center. She was specific about it being used as a place for the history of the county. It has been dedicated in memory of Anne and her sister, Iris.

In 1972 the Commission won its first Distinguished Service Award from the state and has received an award every year since then. In 1982 it became a Texas Heritage Resource Center, a charter participant for source material for teaching Texas History.

The Howard Civic Center was completed in 1987 and a section of three large rooms was designated for history archives. The large room on the southeast corner of the center became the home of the Newton County History Center and Museum. The Newton County Historical Commission had collected many articles over the time they had been allowed to display in the courthouse. Daily operations were begun on August 8, 1988 with a voluntary staff who kept the center open six days a week from 10 A.M. until 4 P.M. Bonnie Jones Smith was elected by the Commission to be the Director of the Center and of the volunteer services. Bonnie was director three times for a total of eleven years.

Through the years the center has grown to encompass the county tax records, county plat maps and displays of family histories, war histories, Indian artifacts and much more. The history center is used extensively for genealogy research by members of the community and by researchers from out of town who are looking for their relatives. The students at the local schools use the center for research and the teachers bring their students for tours of the museum.

Volunteers have busily assembled histories and local stories and produced publications such as Whispers of Newton County, the Thomas McFarland Journal, Newton County Nuggets, Crosscuts, and the new Courthouse Pictorial History as well as many brochures, reports, sketches, postcards, historic calendars and historical places histories. Displays in the museum section include the dinosaur footprint and the ancient whale bone found on Yellow Bayou. There are 50 volunteers from Deweyville to Burkeville, all working on projects of interest to them and to the history center. On August 8 we will be celebrating 25 years in our present location.