By Mason W. Canales

Harker Heights Herald

One shovel has seen more than five decades of development in Harker Heights and Central Texas.

P.R. Cox, one of the founders of Harker Heights and its first mayor, wielded one shovel for three decades of groundbreakings locally and in other parts of Central Texas.

And on July 1, 2008, his daughter Dorothy Ann Cox-Aldrich used the shovel at the groundbreaking ceremony of Harker Heights Community Park, which now has its second phase near completion.

Ed Mullen, city mayor, invited Cox-Aldrich to the 2008 groundbreaking with the original intention of not seeing the historical object, but when Cox-Aldrich said she would bring "daddy's old shovel" Mullen was thrilled, she said.

Since her father's death in 1989, Cox-Aldrich has been holding on to many of her father's belongings, some of which have a lot of significant historical value to Harker Heights.

"I have a lot of treasures that were his here," Cox-Aldrich said. "I got all these treasures that were his that I am handing down to the next generation."

Cox-Aldrich didn't realize how significant the shovel was until she came across a journal that documented the 21 different times P.R. Cox used it, she said.

The earliest date in the journal was 1953, before Harker Heights was incorporated as a city. P.R. Cox used the shovel at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Big Oaks Trailer Park, described in "Harker Heights, Texas; Its Founders, Its Beginning and Its Early Years, 1960-66" by David Yeilding.

Other early groundbreakings documented in the journal were in 1958 for P.R. Cox's first home on Cox Drive, which currently runs alongside Veterans Memorial Boulevard; in 1960, for the city's first post office on Cox Drive; and in 1962, for the incorporated city's first streets Ann Boulevard and Amy Lane, which are named after his granddaughters.

Ann Boulevard and Amy Lane were built with money from the city's first bond issue, which residents had to vote to approve.

"He didn't have the girls there or anything like that, but mother had her heart set on those streets being named after my daughters," Cox-Aldrich said, recalling the day of the groundbreaking.

Also in 1962, the shovel made its way into P.R. Cox's hands for the groundbreaking of Harker Heights' first city hall at 120 S. Harley Drive.

The city hall building still stands where it was constructed, said Patty Brunson, Harker Heights assistant city manager.

The first city hall housed an office for the mayor, a desk for the city secretary, the police department, a jail, and other city officials and offices with the fire department next door in a small white building, Brunson said.

The police department occupied the building until the construction of a new police station on Indian Trail was completed in April 2007. It now stands vacant with animal control operating a small facility behind the building until the new Harker Heights Pet Adoption Center opens on Indian Trail at the end of October.

In 1972, P.R. Cox and his groundbreaking shovel appeared again and shifted dirt at the site for a new city hall on South Ann Boulevard. The city renovated and added to a structure that previously held a bank.

"That was a big deal then, because that was a move up for the city," said David Kingsley, a Harker Heights building official who has been working for the city in various positions since 1969. "That was a big step forward for the city. They kind of envisioned that South Ann Boulevard would be the center of Harker Heights where all the business would come in. They never foresaw that the city would be like it is today."

Brunson was present for city hall's move from Harley to Ann.

"The employees were very happy to move out of the confined space in the 120 S. Harley Building," Brunson said. "We actually had space to grow."

Meanwhile, between the two groundbreakings for city halls, there was a groundbreaking that would affect much more of Bell County.

In 1968, P.R. Cox made an appearance at the groundbreaking for the Stillhouse Hollow Dam, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"I didn't really realize it until I was reading Daddy's little book," Cox-Aldrich said.

"The most significant one is the dam at Stillhouse Lake. I don't know if people realize this, but my daddy helped activate the dams on the tributaries on Stillhouse lake so it doesn't flood throughout Belton."

Cox-Aldrich was excited to participate in the groundbreaking for the Harker Heights Community park, she said.

"I am just tickled to death, because my daddy dearly loved Harker Heights," she said. "I thought I was going to cry, because it is so pretty. Those great big trees for those kids. It so beautiful."

If Cox was still alive, he would be amazed at all the things that have been happening in Harker Heights, because he was always involved with the city's development, Cox-Aldrich said.

"As Cox left his active political leadership life behind, he, no doubt, felt pride in the role he played in Harker Heights, and in the city motto which he believed symbolized efforts between 1960-1966 'Growing as Planned,'" Yeilding's book stated.

Contact Mason W. Canales or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.

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