A NORTHEAST TEXAS TREASURE
There’s a mantra in this Northeast Texas town that goes like this: “Don’t destroy it, restore it.” Established in 1849, Mount Vernon grew as an agricultural town. During the Great Depression, property owners couldn’t afford new construction, so they maintained what they had. That paid off. Today, around the courthouse square and in nearby neighborhoods, historic buildings constructed of wood, brick or stone have been restored and adapted to new uses. Even the 1912 Classical Revival-style Franklin County Courthouse, designed by architect L.L. Thurman, is working toward restoration with help from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
The 1940 fire station, built with native rock by the WPA, has found new life as the Fire Station Museum, where displays include memorabilia donated by the late Don Meredith, a Mount Vernon native and former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. The restored 1894 Cotton Belt Depot Museum features a model train exhibit, working telegraphy and railroading displays. Two late 19th-Century commercial buildings now house the Chamber of Commerce and a genealogy archive. The Old Jail Art Museum operates in the 1912 lockup. One of the more intriguing heritage sites is the Bankhead Highway Visitors Center, located in the 1868 home of Henry Clay Thruston. It’s said he was the tallest soldier in the Confederacy, standing 7 feet, 7 inches. Two abandoned churches also have been resurrected. One, built in 1907, is music hall with monthly chamber music performances. The other, an 1850s house of worship, is a residence. In the past, preservationists used grants and private money to restore local structures, including more than 60 homes built before World War I. Now, adaptive re-use is a cornerstone of economic development. A Texas Main Street City, Mount Vernon was honored in 2009 with a First Lady’s Texas Treasures Award for its commitment to preserving the past. See the story below