The state recently recognized the Harrison County Historical Commission with the prestigious Distinguished Service Award as a salute to the more than 5,000 volunteer hours volunteers devoted, in 2019, to the preservation of the county’s history.
“The Texas Historical Commission received 185 reports for 2019 and only approved 79 awards, and ours was one of them,” said County Judge Chad Sims as he recognized the honor. “So we’re grateful to our Harrison County Historical Commission for all of their efforts.”
Thomas Speir, returning chairman of the local HCHC said he’s grateful for the recognition from the Texas Historical Commission, and especially appreciates Bill Whitis, who served as HCHC chairman in 2019.
“The Distinguished Service Award (DSA) reflects the hard work and commitment of our members to protect and preserve the history of Harrison County,” said Speir. “This hard work was indicated by nearly 5,000 volunteer hours spent by our members on CHC work just in 2019.”
According to the THC, while all county historic commission efforts are valued, distinguished service awards acknowledge above average county historical commission performance, based on a statewide analysis. Speir said Harrison County has been honored to have been an annual recipient of the award since the award’s inception.
“The goals of the Harrison CHC are encapsulated in our mission statement,” said Speir. “We work to find the history of Harrison County and, if tangible artifacts, documents and photos are discovered, we help arrange for their submission to the Harrison County Historical Museum, which is the preferred repository for these items.”
As the county agency for historic preservation, the mission of the HCHC is to assist the commissioners court and the THC in preservation of the county’s historic and cultural resources and to protect and preserve the county’s historic and prehistoric resources for the use, education, enjoyment and economic benefit of present and future generations.
“We serve as the liaison between the citizens of Harrison County and the THC and help with applications for historical markers, cemetery recording, and recording archeological sites, among other projects. We can get free advice for citizens from the THC on any historical related issue, including historic structure preservation,” said Speir.
One notable project completed in 2019 was the erection of the “WWII Veterans Memorial Highway” signs at the entrance to Harrison County at both ends of U.S. Highway 80. The Harrison CHC had been working on the project since 2015, and was pleased to see it come to fruition.
“It is hoped that these signs will provide a “common thread” for all of the Harrison County communities on Highway 80, to help them unite during the 250th birthday of the United States in 2026, and provide the chance for integrated historical tourism program opportunities for visitors,” said Speir.
Additionally, “historic tourism in Texas alone amounts to $2.5 billion a year, and is expected to be much greater in 2026. We want all of Harrison County to be prepared to earn a fair portion of these funds,” said Speir.
Another significant effort pursued in 2019 included helping historic Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in gaining easier access to the church’s cemetery. Speir said Whitis, former HCHC chairman, met with the church’s members and Old Canaan Cemetery landowners to assist with a resolution.
“”Mr. Whitis met with all interested parties with the hopes of reaching an agreement so that the church members can all have easier, regularized scheduled access to the cemetery, which is on private property,” Speir explained. “They also hope to eliminate some hazards, such as fallen trees.”
Also, in 2019, the Harrison CHC sponsored another history fair in cooperation with National History Day guidelines, Speir said. All school districts and private schools within the county were invited to participate.
“Winning exhibits included ‘New London School Explosion’, ‘The Journey Home-Col. James Lewis’, and ‘Black Wall Street — The Tulsa Riot’,” said Speir. ‘All participants considered the fair to be a success.’
Another highlight for the year was a county interaction initiative that Speir undertook after attending several meetings of the Gregg County Historical Commission in an effort to exchange ideas and programs to benefit both counties.
“This resulted in the free exchange of museum brochures between both counties so that visitors to historical venues in either county would become aware of historical tourism opportunities in the neighboring county,” said Speir.
In presenting the Distinguished Service Award, on behalf of the THC, Judge Sims encouraged all to congratulate the HCHC members’ on their success.
“We appreciate their service,” Judge Sims said.
According to the Texas Historical Commission, CHCs throughout the state collectively provided more than 444,000 volunteer hours in 2019, which is an in-kind donation to the state valued at more than $11 million.
“The THC assists more than 200 CHCs through programs and services that preserve Texas’ heritage for the education, enjoyment, and economic benefit of present and future generations,” THC officials said. “The THC’s advisory role to CHCs is outlined in the Texas Local Government Code, the statute that enables county commissioner’s courts to establish CHCs. The volunteer appointees, as directed by county officials, initiate and conduct programs that preserve the historic and cultural resources of Texas.”