Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
CHEROKEE COUNTY —
Hundreds of students from Cherokee County schools – public, private and college – will be observing Spring Break the week of March 11, possibly looking for ways to bide their time that don't necessarily cost a whole lot of money or involve huge amounts of travel time.
Fortunately, there are large number of free to little cost places to visit, all within short driving distance.
Like history? There are a slew of places to visit, including historic sites and museums, such as:
Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site
While the Caddoan Mounds museum is closed through the end of the year due to renovation and expansion, the mound site and grounds (at 1649 Texas Highway 21, west of Alto) are open for self-guided tours. The site is home to three earthen mounds, part of a Caddo Indian village and ceremonial center that overlook the Neches River, established more than 1,200 years, according to the website www.visitcaddomounds.com. For more information, contact the museum office at 936-858-3218.
Jim Hogg Historic Site
Operated by the City of Rusk, this historic site features a scale replica of the birthplace and house of Texas’ first native-born governor. Attractions also include a museum and replica of the family cemetery. The park is day-use only, and includes an interpretive trail and picnic area. Located off U.S. Highway 84 two miles east of Rusk, the Jim Hogg Historic Site is open Friday through Sunday.
The Texas State Railroad
Established in 1881, the train travels through the East Texas Pineywoods on a 25-mile route between Rusk and Palestine. During the two weeks of Spring Break, from March 12-15 and March 19-22, special weekday runs will be offered. Standard fare tickets vary in cost from $20 for a child under age 12 to $32 for passengers over age 13; premium seating rates are higher, as is an engine cab ride. Season passes also are available. For more information, call 903-683-2561, or visit the website www.texasstaterr.com.
Cherokee History Trails
Got a yen to learn more about the history of the county? Gas up the car, pack some snacks and grab a Cherokee History Trails map for a day trip throughout Cherokee County to any one of the 135 sites listed, like the Ben Cannon Ferry (#61 on the trails map), a ferry across the Neches River in operation from 1848 to 1851. Or Little Bean’s Chero-kee Village (#11), named for a Native American who settled here with six other families between 1820-1839.
Maps are available through Chamber of Commerce offices in Rusk and Jacksonville, as well as the Cherokee County Historical Com-mission in Jacksonville.
The Bullard Historical Museum
Having accumulated various and sundry items over the years, local retired physician Mar-jorie Ferrell Roper decided to turn the old family pharmacy (the former O.L. Ferrell Drug Store at 105 N. Phillips) into a museum that shares the city's history. Visitors can check out the soda fountain where she dished up ice cream, along with a display of military memorabilia, a doll collection, books and other items. Contact the Bullard Area Chamber of Commerce, 903-894-4238, for more information.
The American Freedom Museum
North of downtown Bullard at The Brook Hill School, this 15,000-square-foot museum features artifacts and documents reflecting the nation’s history, as well as a special gallery featuring a document signed by United States presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama. Located at 22450 FM 2493, the museum is open to public on Saturdays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Groups of 12 or more may set up an appointment for special tours, with special rates. Cost is $5 for youths ages 6-17 and $6 for adults 18 and older. Military veterans and children ages 5 and younger enter free.
Vanishing Texana Museum
Since 1965, the Vanishing Texana Mu-seum has shared the history of Jacksonville through displays like a floor model of the Burns General Store, a toy collection and Native American artifacts, among others. The museum, located at 302 S. Bolton in the Senior Citizen Center, has 450 pieces, many of which were donated by the family of local resident J.L. Brown. There is no admission, but arrangements must be made through the Jacksonville City Secretary Betty Thompson for tours, said Sam Hopkins, chairman of the local museum board. Thompson may be reached at 903-586-3510, ext. 14.
The Heritage Center of Cherokee County
The center features displays of places like Rusk College (operated by the Cherokee Baptist Association from 1894 to 1928) and New Bir-mingham, the “Iron Queen of the Southwest,” located near US 69 and FM 343. At 208 Henderson St., one block south of the Cherokee County Court-house in Rusk, the center is open 10-5 p.m. Sat-urday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, with a $1 per person admission charged. To learn more, visit www.HCCC-Museum, or call 903-683-5665.
The Museum for East Texas Culture
Located in the former Palestine High School, 400 Micheaux Ave., the museum opened its doors in 1982 and features rooms with displays focusing on Black His-tory, the fire department, the railroad and education. Hours are from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, with an admission of $4 per person.
The museum’s website – www.museumpalestine.org – offers more detailed information, or contact 903-723-1914.
East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore
Through dioramas, movies, sound presentation and static displays, the museum gives an authentic re-creation of oil discovery and production in the early 1930's from the largest oilfield in the country. The museum is located on the campus of Kilgore College, US 259 at Ross St., and is open from 9 a.m.-4 pm. Tuesday through Sat-urday, and from 2-5 p.m Sunday. Call 903-983-8295 for admission costs, or visit www.EastTexas-OilMuseum.com to learn more.
Tyler Junior College’s Center for Earth & Science Education
Located in the former TJC Planetarium, the CESSE is a state-of-the-art facility featuring a 40-foot Spitz NanoSeam domed theater. Films currently on selection are Life: A Cosmic Story,” “The Little Star That Could,” “Violent Uni-verse,” “Tales of the Maya Skies,” “East Texas Live Skies” and “Astronaut” – show times are listed at www.TJC.edu/cesse. Cost is $6 per adult, $4 for seniors and children, with viewings Thursday through Sunday. The CESSE also features exhibits, such as “Science on the Half Shell,” on display through May 19.
The center is located at 1411 E. Lake St. in Tyler. For more information, call 903-510-2312.
When the weather's fine, thoughts turn to soaking up rays and being outdoors, and East Texas is the place to do it.
Looking for someplace really free to kick back? Check out Bullard Kids' Park and Love's Lookout, all within a 15-minute drive from town:
Bullard Kids' Park
Built by volunteers and dedicated two months ago, the local playscape – located just north of downtown Bullard – is a fantasy play land dreamed up by local school children who suggested attractions like a tree fort, rocket ship, slides, a castle, monkey bars and a rock wall.
The playground is separated into areas for older and younger children, with picnic pavilions and restrooms close by. The park is free of cost to visitors.
Located two miles north of the city on U.S. 69, Love's Lookout was named for Jacksonville resident Wesley Love, who purchased and planted a 600-acre peach farm in that area. His widow later donated 22 acres for a state park, and today, the popular site features a visitor's information center designed to resemble a tomato packing shed – a nod to the city's tomato heritage – a vending area, restrooms, covered picnic sites and a sheriff's substation. On a clear day, one can see 35 miles into the distance, according to a state historical marker at the site.
Other outdoor venues that serve as learning experiences are local farms like Way Back When Dairy and Poppa Skinny's Farm:
Way Back When Dairy
The operation is Cherokee County’s only certified raw milk producer, owned and operated by Mark and DeOnna Ganske on a family farm that has operated as a dairy since 1948. Located on FM 177 East in Mixon, visitor can tour the dairy by appointment, 903-372-9460.
Poppa Skinny’s Farm
This Cherokee County natural and sustainable family farm – at 952 FM 1910 West, outside Dialville – was established in 1913, though the farm has been in the family since the mid-1800s, according to the website www.poppaskinnysfarm.com. Poppa – John Acker – “was a very progressive farmer for his day,” attending special workshops offered by Texas A&M University. Today his grandchildren and their families run the dairy, which raises seasonal produce, fruit, eggs, chicken, port, beef and goat dairy products, managing the farm “without synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms,” according to the website. Tours are offered Saturdays at 1 p.m.; contact Ron Luce at 903-363-2843 to learn more.
Don't forget Texas state parks, which offer programs throughout the year, as well as fun stuff to do.
Discover more at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website, www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks. Each listing describes programs that are offered a particular park, including those located in and around Cherokee County.
These include Mission Tejas State Park, 12 miles west of Alto, Tyler State Park in northern Smith county and Martin Creek State Park, southwest of Tatum.
Mission Tejas State Park
Located off Texas Highway 21, at 120 State Park Rd. 44, the park offers camping, picnicking and hiking, as well as the restored Rice Family Log Home. Constructed between 1828 and 1838, the residence served as a stopover for immigrants, adventurers and local residents traveling the Old San Antonio Road across pioneer Texas, according to the park's website. Mission Tejas Park was built in 1934 as a commemorative representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the province of Texas, which was established in 1690. There is a $2 park entry fee for visitors ages 13 and older. Contact the park office at 936-687-2394.
Tyler State Park
Visitors to the park, north of I-20, off FM 16 at 789 Park Road 16, will find an array of things to keep them occupied. The spring-fed lake is utilized by both swimmers and fishermen; the 3/4-mile Whispering Pines Nature Trail is open to hikers. There also are bike trails and camping available at the park. Visitors ages 12 and older pay a $5 visitor fee. For more information, contact the park office at 903-597-5338.
Martin Creek State Park
Activities at the park – 9515 CR 2181D, off Texas Highway 43 – include year-round fishing, camping, wildlife observation and photography, picnicking, boating, water skiing and swimming; backpacking and hiking. To learn more, contact the park office, 903-836-4336.
Lake Jacksonville Recreational Area
Located approximately three miles north of downtown, the 1,325-acre lake maintained by the City of Jack-sonville features 10 screened shelters there, as well as seven camping sites with water and electricity and 10 RV pads with water and electricity. In addition, there are three boat ramps on the lake and restroom facilities with showers for campers. Two public swimming areas feature picnic tables. To learn more, visit the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce website, www.jacksonvilletexas.com, or call the city at 903-586-3510 or 903-586-4160.
Cherokee Trace Drive-through Animal Safari
The 300-acre preserve features two dozen exotic and endangered species in an open habitat similar to their native territory, according to the website http://www.cherokeetrace.org. The tour is a self-guided, self-paced one, and gates are open from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and from 1-6 p.m. Sunday. Last car admitted at 4:30 p.m. A behind-the-scenes tour also is offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays. Cost is $10 for children ages 3-12; $13 for seniors ages 65 and older, and $15 adults. The preserve is located at 1200 CR 4405, off FM 2274, southeast of Jacksonville. For more information, call 903-683-3322.