The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hosted a webinar for all of the parties affected by the proposed High Speed Rail from Dallas to Houston that would run through Madison County to discuss the federal process of identifying historic sites.
Madison County locals gathered at First United Methodist Church to listen to the webinar, which was essentially an overview of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Section 106 outlines the process of identifying historical properties in potential affected areas and notifying the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as well as Native American tribes before working toward a solution.
This was the first of multiple meetings the FRA has stated they will host for the “consulting parties” after they released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was required by law. “Primarily, the top concern is our cemeteries,” said Bonne Hendrix, chairperson of the Madison County Historical Commission since 2010. “We have cemeteries that are designated as state historical locations. For them to dismiss it as not being part of the federal register or because there is not a person of historical significance therein is quite disappointing.”
Hendrix put together a list with descriptions for all of the significant local sites that the rail would impact and sent it to the FRA in March. During the webinar, FRA representatives listed just four locations ,” but this process is far from over.
“They seem to already have their minds made up,” said Hendrix. “They sent invitations to these webinars to those of us in charge of county historical commissions, and I will continue to attend, but it seems as if they are going to dismiss what we send them regardless.”
The cemeteries listed in the letter include the Oxford, Bethel, Ten Mile and Whitfield Cemeteries. Within these grounds you would find the final resting places of American Veterans from the War for Texas Independence, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They also hold some of the state’s earliest pioneers as well as their descendants.
Other locations of note listed by Hendrix included archeological sites such as Kickapoo Creek on Strawther Road, where Native American artifacts have been discovered over the last 50 years. Also discovered along the banks of Kickapoo in 2005 was the Navasota Lady Tresses, a rare orchid endemic to Texas.
There have been multiple Bald Eagle sightings on land belonging to Ms. Etta Pearl Rush, which Hendrix brought to the attention of the FRA in her letter. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department continues to monitor the breeding and wintering Eagle population in cooperation with landowners and conservation groups. Lastly, the letter listed multiple properties that would be impacted by the rail.
“This references our environment, our lands, our homes and our history, all of which were hard earned through sacrifice and are precious to the people of Madison County,” Hendrix said to conclude her letter. “We ask that you do not recommend the building of the rail. It would result in the destruction of homes, property and historical locations, thus changing Madison County forever.” The representatives from the FRA stated that another webinar meeting will be held in the late summer. For now, the historical commission’s next step will be reaching out to state officials to find out if the historical landmarks will be preserved and how to go about that process. Hendrix plans to contact the Texas Historical Commission in Austin to find out how much protection they will provide.