Ginning up memories of Laceola and High Prairie

Posted 4/21/20

History is made of facts which aren’t always what we’d prefer. Things have changed in the last several decades, but for years there were different facilities for black and white folks. Below I am not advocating, I’m simply trying to tell how things were.

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Ginning up memories of Laceola and High Prairie

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History is made of facts which aren’t always what we’d prefer. Things have changed in the last several decades, but for years there were different facilities for black and white folks. Below I am not advocating, I’m simply trying to tell how things were.

Alice Lee Gooden (1906-2013), Oma Lee Guess (1902-1983), and Hope Cannon Rhodes (1907-2004) had several things in common. They grew up in Madison County in the first decades of the 20th century. Each taught school for quite a few years. Late in life they recorded facts regarding the histories of the communities of High Prairie and Laceola, for inclusion in the 1984 volume of local history. The first two wrote separately from the last, because of race. Mrs. Gooden and Mrs. Guess wrote from a black perspective, and anything herein referring to such came from them. Mrs. Rhodes wrote from a white perspective, so that information came from her.

I’ve lived in Laceola-High Prairie much of my life. There is no visible dividing line. It appears to me that Laceola is the smaller of the two. High Prairie seems to be more south and west and the name used much more than Laceola.

By 1898, about 32 Black families had bought land and settled in the High Prairie community. Early on, they organized and built a church there on what is now called Bridges Road., They worked with the county and state to get a school there. Church and school were both labeled as Chapel Hill facilities. John Smith was the first teacher.

The Chapel Hill church was organized by Jack Terrell, Frank Webber, Millie Mott, Pennie Johnson, Dollie Terrell, and Mary Buggs, and its first pastor was Reverend P. Palmer. It still stands but is in sad shape and hasn’t been used for worship in quite a while.

I have talked to folks that attended High Prairie School for elementary grades even in the early 1960s. It was torn down at some time in that decade and students bussed to the Marion Anderson campus in town. Essia Mitchell Sandles taught at Chapel Hill some.

On January 25, 1900, people of the white High-Prairie community made application for a post office to the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C. That March it was granted and given the name Laceola Post Office. It was located five miles west of Madisonville, on the southeast corner where now Farm Roads 978 and 2289 intersect. Early appointed postmasters were Caroline Fairey in 1900 and Louis A. Traylor in 1906.

After the post office closed in 1907 (according to the Texas State Historical Association), Mr. and Mrs. A.T. Fairey allowed people to continue to get their mail at their store there. A special attraction was the wagon wheel with boxes all around it. The mail carrier only had to drive his buggy close and then turn the wheel to deposit mail in each box. Arthur Peters, Jack Hollis, and Ivan Shannon were mail carriers on this early rural route.

Mr. and Mrs. Fairey kept many everyday commodities in their store, things that were regularly needed by people in the community. There was also a huge candy case enclosed in glass, and he gave candy to children as long as he lived.

About a hundred yards east of the post office and Fairey Store stood a cotton gin and gristmill. The Reverend A.H. Cox ran the gristmill for many years. Families brought their shelled corn to be ground into meal. Just to the east was a blacksmith shop owned and operated by Tom Wilson.

Later D.C. Cannon, Sr., owned and operated a cotton gin there and the gristmill for some years. (I know it ultimately burned down. If I could get into the Museum at this Covid-19 time, I could look at the old news article about it burning. I’ve seen the old clipping, and I think the gin burned within a few years of my grandfather’s death in 1927. The nearby gin tank was reputed to be very deep. Thomas Rhodes threw his nephew, Harvey Cannon, into that tank to teach him to swim, telling him “Sink or swim!” Thank God he swam, or I wouldn’t be writing Musings for you.

There were few professional workers in early-day communities. As a rule, a “utility man” was semi-proficient in many jobs and employed on larger farms and ranches. He was someone who could be counted on to handle construction jobs, build and repair fences, do shop work, and be a part-time producer.

Such a man was Ben Yoke (as Mrs. Rhodes spelled it) on the D.C. Cannon Stock Farm. (His name pronounced as You-ey. Stories of him abound but not records.) Ben ran the cotton gin and used sky hooks to lift heavy material and equipment. Had he not been born 50 years too early, he could have been a comedian. He had his mules wear green glasses so they might think the grass was green and not dead. He was full of wit and humor and enjoyed entertaining bystanders with funny tales.

Baptist and Methodist church groups held services in the High Prairie School building twice a month. Brush arbor revivals were held every summer, sometimes on the school/church grounds and at other times on the Cannon gin site where baptizings were performed in the gin tank.

Regarding school for Laceola and High Prairie, “Thomas Fisher and Sam Fisher, State of Texas, County of Madison, Texas. Know all men by these present that we the above, written for and in consideration of the advancement of the cause of education in our community, have given and donated for the purpose of a site for a Public Free School, two acres in the D. Ariola Survey, 7th day of January A.D. 1884.” That property was just west of and across the road from the current High Prairie Cemetery, and Thomas Fisher (1828-1890) is buried in that cemetery. I can’t find other local records Sam Fisher.

That school was active until the mid-1930s at least but did not offer high school classes. My father, Harvey Cannon, attended there but had to stay with his sister in town his last few years of school to get a high school diploma. As was customary then, that school also was only for white children.

Some of the early families of High Prairie, not separated here by race or color, were Aaron, Bassett, Bowman, Bridges, Brown, Buggs, Cannon, Johnson, Knight, Leonard, McAdams, Mitchell, Mize, Mott, Norwood, Parrish, Pipkin, Richey, Sandel, Sandles, Swinner, Terrell, Venable, Webber, and Wilson.

Besides the ruins of the Chapel Hill church, little remains at those school and church sites now. There are two High Prairie Cemeteries, the White one on FM 2289 and the Black one on Bridges Road. The oldest marked grave on Bridges Road is that of Unice B. Randolph (1896-1921), son of Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Randolph. The oldest marked grave in the cemetery on 2289 is that of John Spencer Wolfe (1856-1879), who was said to have been murdered on his way home after visiting his fiancé. His parents donated the land for his grave that started the cemetery.

The distance between those two cemeteries is a bit less than two miles cross-country, gate to gate. Clark Osborne calculated that for me on his phone. He’s a huge help with many matters.

Madison County Museum is located at 201 N. Madison Street. The mailing address is P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. It is usually open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. While writing I’m hoping that the Coronavirus Quarantine is winding down. Call ahead, 936.348.5230, when you’d like to come in, and hopefully we will be open. Madison County Museum’s Facebook page has been posting daily entries and facts about local history, in hopes of keeping folks interested. Hopefully you will see fit to enjoy that.

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