The Fort Bend County Historical Commission is slowly resuming operations. It had 56 members who gave approximately 2,500 hours of volunteer work. Plenary Commission meetings moved to a hybrid in-person and online format by the end of 2021. While achieving quorum, meetings still have lower attendance than pre-pandemic meetings. Most committees continue to work, with members in particular performing tasks that can be done at home or on their own. A commission, which requires work within the Commission office, remains at a standstill. We are trying to find members of the Commission to work on this committee and also to ensure a presence in the office of the Commission. The Commission awards the Bert E. Bleil Heritage Award for outstanding achievement in historic preservation. In 2021, we presented the award to Chuck Kelly of Sugar Land. Normally this is done at an evening reception at a local event center. However, in 2021 we were unable to organize the reception and instead awarded the prize at the Q2 Commission plenary meeting. As of this writing, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to host the evening reception again until 2023. A somewhat hybrid second quarter committee meeting and reception is planned for 2022 where we will honor Michael Moore .
At the Commission’s first quarter 2021 meeting, Dianne Wilson received the 2020 Commissioner of the Year award. The 2021 Commissioner of the Year is Clint Drake. He was honored at the first quarter 2022 meeting. He wrote an in-depth article on the history of Fort Bend, the log cabin built by settlers on the Lively in 1822. The Public Affairs Committee also provided a unmanned booth giving information about the Commission’s role and activities at the Fort Bend History Association’s event, Texian Market Days. The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented committee members from occupying the booth as they normally do. This committee contributed approximately 110 hours of work.
The largest committee of the Historical Commission is the Cemetery Committee. Members of this committee conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey of a prehistoric cemetery and photographed artifacts from a previous investigation at this site. This work was carried out as part of a request for the acquisition of the cemetery by the Nature Conservancy. The committee also researched two historic cemeteries for Texas Archaeological Stewards, prepared artifact maps and photographs for a report on Barnett Cemetery, helped the town of Beasley avoid disturbance of an unknown cemetery, and obtained Texas Historic Cemetery designation for two cemeteries. Committee members also worked with the Fort Bend County Parks and Recreation Department to determine fence boundaries and options for Kuykendall’s grave, searched Fort Bend County deed records for information on historic cemeteries and monitored the condition of five endangered historic cemeteries. They contributed 583 volunteer hours to the Commission.
The Research and Markers Committee discussed goals to begin a digital inventory of historic markers in the county and assess which ones should be part of a finishing project in the coming year. A named person took 48 photos of markers in Rosenberg, Richmond, Beasley, Booth,
Needville, Stafford and Sugar Land for digital inventory. About 20 of them need to be repaired. Marker requests were submitted in 2021 for Orchard Cemetery (subject), Pleasant Hill Cemetery (replacement-HTC), and Bullhead Convict Labor Camp/Sugar Land 95 (subject-underrated marker program- HTC). All have been approved. Two markers were dedicated last year: Mamie and AP George and the First United Methodist Church, Fulshear. The Williams family marker has also been installed but has yet to have a dedication ceremony. Finally, a marker for the Holy Family Catholic Church in the casting process and will hopefully be received and dedicated in 2022. Search and marker committee members have worked over 75 hours in 2021.
The City of Richmond and Fort Bend County moved the Jaybird Monument from a spot next to City Hall to Hodges Bend Cemetery which contains the remains of James Shamblin whose name appears there. Members of the public have called for this change (or the destruction of the monument) because of its commemoration of past racist events and individuals. Plans call for signage to be placed both in the plaza and at the cemetery to fully describe the events of the Jaybird-Woodpecker feud and give it proper context.
The Historic Preservation Committee of the Fort Bend County Historic Commission has been one of the most active in 2021. Historic Preservation Committee members have split parts of the county (some before 2021) and have begun surveys in their regions. Surveys are underway at Katy, Richmond, Rosenberg, Sugar Land, Needville, Guy, Damon and most recently Orchard. Committee members visited the Cole Theater in downtown Rosenberg, a former Art Deco cinema and performing arts theater with a view to including it in their survey efforts and the owner’s broader efforts to restore the structure and pursue a historical marker for it. A survey of Fulshear was completed and a member volunteered to conduct surveys in the Booth-Crabb-Thompsons-George Ranch area. The Historic Preservation Committee has worked with the Cultural Resources Committee to identify homes along FM 2977 that pre-date 1981 to comment on a TxDOT project to widen this route. The committee met several times throughout the year, accumulated 440 volunteer hours and completed approximately 50 surveys in 2021.
Fort Bend County is a rapidly growing county with developments in several locations and ongoing infrastructure repairs and upgrades in others. As such, the CHC receives numerous Section 106 requests each year, often for cell towers and the like that are referred to its Cultural Resources Committee. Two outstanding areas of continuing concern are the Brazos River railroad bridge in Richmond and a pre-war sugar purge in the Arcola area. Union Pacific maintains the Richmond Railroad Bridge and has determined that it is better to replace the bridge which dates from around 1900 rather than repair it. Union Pacific has had mitigation conversations with the City of Richmond, CHC, Army Corps of Engineers and other interested parties. The status of the bridge replacement project or mitigation measures is unclear at this time. The CHC continues to monitor the situation. Second, a pre-war sugar purge in the Arcola area is on the outskirts of the Siena housing estate. This may be the only such purge still standing in the country. Development has not yet reached the site but will eventually. In the past, the CHC has contacted the development company responsible for Sienna to discuss the preservation of the site with limited success. The CHC continues to monitor the purge but has not received any updates regarding site plans.
The Oral History Committee continued its work in 2021. It conducted three interviews and placed these transcripts and summaries on the Commission’s website. There are now 267 interviews available for viewing and research. Two others are nearing completion. Additional interviews are in preparation. The Committee worked 170 hours in 2021.
In May and June 2021, “Mission Walker” Edie Littlefield Sundby traveled the 300 miles of the Old Spanish Trail (Alt-US90) highway from San Antonio to the Texas border with Louisiana. Communities along the route were invited to get involved. Members of the Fort Bend County Historical Commission contacted towns along the route, including Rosenberg, Richmond, Sugar Land, Stafford, and Missouri City. Those interested were invited to walk with Ms. Sundby and educate her about the history and heritage of these communities as she walked through them. Commission members were also among those walking with Ms Sundby. The
The Commission Chairman contacted the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office to inform them of Ms Sundby’s walk. The Public Affairs Committee organized newspaper coverage. Ms Sundby documented her trip on her Facebook page.
In 2021, Fort Bend CHC began considering goals for 2022, including improving the commission’s educational offerings, promoting county historical and cultural sites; and improving the diversity of appointees and volunteers.