About the Montgomery County Historical Commission
COUNTY-WIDE “YOUTH ADVISORY BOARD” One of the most important branches of the Montgomery County Historical Commission is its Youth Advisory Board ("YAB" for short). Composed of juniors and seniors representing public and private high schools in Montgomery County. The...
What Is the County Historical Commission?
The official state agency for historical preservation, the Texas Historical Commission (THC), was created originally in 1953 as the Texas State Historical Survey Committee by the Texas Legislature. It retained that title until the 63rd Legislature changed it to the Texas Historical Commission.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission (MCHC) is a duly constituted organization of Montgomery County government composed of citizen members who are appointed by the County Commissioners and serve for two year terms. The Commission reports to the County Judge and the Commissioners Court, and also to the Texas Historical Commission.
The County Historical Commission has followed the Texas Historical Commission’s on-going purpose of surveying, recording and promoting the appreciation of local history as well as marking those historic sites and structures deemed worthy of preservation for either historical or architectural reasons.
The Commission works in various fields, including archeology, architecture, history, economic development and heritage tourism for the benefit of present and future generations. The agency helps identify and preserve historic sites and helps to preserve the heritage of Montgomery County. Historic preservation is a vital part of a promising future within our community.
- To discover, and as appropriate, circulate information pertinent to the historical identity of Montgomery County, Texas, such as the placement of historical markers.
- To cooperate with other persons, groups, organizations and agencies in preserving the history and heritage of Texas.
Role of Historical Commissions
County Historical Commissions (CHC) are responsible for reviewing all applications for state historical markers before they come to the Texas Historical Commission (THC). They also serve as advisors to their Commissioners Court on matters of historic preservation. In addition, they often operate or promote county history museums, develop archival collections, promote local history celebrations and heritage tourism, publish books and brochures dealing with the county’s history and historic sites, undertake surveys of cultural and historic resources, conduct oral history projects, and all other manner of preservation programs.
The Commission’s predecessor, the Montgomery County Historical Survey Committee, was organized in about 1953 during the administration of County Judge W.S. Weisinger, with W. H. “Harley Gandy as its first chairman. Other members included Mrs. Smith (Bessie) Owen and Mrs. Raymond (Anna) Weisinger of Montgomery; Miss Margaret Ella Watson of Willis; J. T. Montgomery, Mrs. A.K. Stewart, and Mrs. W.P. McComb, Sr., all of Conroe. The Commission was organized for the purpose of preservation of the county’s historical and cultural artifacts. In 1973 the Texas State legislature created county historical commissions. Each county in Texas is required by State law to have a historical commission, and in that year the Historical Survey Committee’s title was changed to the Montgomery County Historical Commission.
Since it was organized in 1953, the Montgomery County Historical Commission has been prominent in regional and statewide historical activities. In 1966, Montgomery County along with DeWitt County (at the request of the State Commission) piloted a program of Texas History Appreciation Week sponsoring essay and poster contests in the public schools of Montgomery County. In June of that same year, dignitaries from many sections of Texas gathered in Montgomery County to pay tribute to the men who served Texas in the office of Secretary of State. Climaxing the event, a marker entitled “CHARLES BELLINGER STEWART, FIRST SECRETARY OF STATE” was unveiled and dedicated. The planning and cooperation of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce made this event outstanding by any standard.
The County Historical Commission has hosted numerous regional meetings, and the Commission has been awarded the State’s Distinguished Service Award for meritorious services in the field of historical preservation on at least three occasions. In 1978 the Commission received an award of merit for outstanding historical preservation accomplishment. The following year (1979), twenty County Chairmen in Texas were honored at the State Commission’s Silver Anniversary Banquet for having given the longest service to the Texas Historical Commission. Montgomery County was one of the counties recognized.
During the Civil War Centennial Celebration in Texas (1961-1965), countless Confederate soldiers’ graves were located, service proven, and marked with government stones. Cooperation with the Texas Civil War Centennial poster and essay contests for high school students resulted in State-wide recognition for the county when Charles Heintz (a junior in Montgomery High School) won first place and a college scholarship with his entry entitled, “A MONTGOMERY COUNTY SOLIDER BOY”. This was a biographical paper on Frank B. Chilton of Montgomery who ran away from home to serve the Confederacy as a very young boy. He survived the war, returned home, and compiled a history of Hood’s Brigade. He was chiefly instrumental in gathering funds for the monument to Hood’s Brigade that stands on the Capitol grounds in Austin.
Perhaps the most lasting and widely-publicized spin-off of the Commission is the creation of the Montgomery Trek Historic Homes Tour in Montgomery. In 1954, a Montgomery area citizen who was also doing volunteer work for the Texas Historical Foundation, had an idea of organizing the first tour of old homes under this new State program of restoration and preservation. Late in 1954, with the guidance of the then Texas State Historical Survey Committee, the Montgomery Historical Society was formed to manage the affairs of the tour with its chief purpose being to preserve and/or restore the many aging but architecturally sound old homes in the Montgomery area. In April of the following year (1955), the first tour netted some one hundred and fifty visitors to six homes. Since this first tour, each third Sunday in April sees an attendance at the “Trek” in every increasing numbers. Weather permitting, registration at from five to as many as eleven buildings varies from four and five hundred to as many as eleven hundred at each place. Proceeds from the tour has been used to erect the many historical makers in the town, to restore its cemeteries, to further and encourage restoration and upkeep of the buildings, and to purchase historical materials for schools and libraries. The Arnold-Simonton House in Montgomery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, has received a matching-funds grant for the historic and architectural study necessary for restoration. Efforts to authentically restore this classic Greek Revival cottage were successful, and after serving as the city hall for the City of Montgomery for several years, it was moved to Fernland Historical Park where it serves as a museum.
In 1972, Montgomery County was one of the fifteen counties invited to attend a comprehensive three-day workshop on oral history held at the L.B.J. Library in Austin. Three members attended.
Through the work and efforts of the Montgomery County Historical Commission, over 40 historical markers (including subject, grave, and building markers) have been researched, applied for, and received for Montgomery County.
The need for historical activity in Montgomery County is boundless. The County is rich in research materials, buildings that need notice, and countless other subjects concerning the heritage of the people of the County.
The Montgomery County Historical Commission has been chaired by the following individuals since it was formed in 1953:
- W. H. “Harley” Gandy (1953-1963)
- Bessie Owens (1963-1985)
- Gertie Spencer (1985-2012)
- Larry L. Foerster (2012- )
In 1963, W. H. “Harley” Gandy stepped down as the Commission’s first chairman, and the County Commissioners appointed Bessie Owen as chairperson. On February 13, 1985, the Commissioners Court honored Mrs. Owen’s 22 years of distinguished service to the Historical Commission with a wooden and bronze plaque, and Mrs. James (Gertie) Spencer was appointed as her successor. Gertie Spencer faithfully served as Chair of the Historical Commission for the next 27 years. On May 7, 2012, the County Commissioners Court honored Gertie Spencer for her exemplary service to the Historical Commission and, upon the recommendation of County Judge Alan B. Sadler, appointed Larry L. Foerster to the position of Chair of the Commission.
Larry L. Foerster, Chairperson
Montgomery County Historical Commission
June 18, 2012
* From the archives of the Montgomery County Historical Commission