BELTON — Despite threats of inclement weather, Stephanie Turnham, Bell County Museum director, related tales of colorful characters and controversy as she led the popular Bell County Museum Summer Walking Tour on June 12.
“It opens up the community to me, making it more personal,” Rhonda Green, of Temple, said.
Participants walked around the courthouse, past the county jail, onto the bridge over Nolan Creek, through the historic area of downtown Belton and past the museum, before making their way back to the courthouse.
“I’ve lived in Belton for seven years, and I drive by all these places,” Green said. “I’ll think of them differently next time.”
In the shade across from the Bell County Juvenile Center, Turnham described Bell County’s third jail.
Examples of Renaissance Revival, Arte Moderne and even Sears & Roebuck catalog home architecture can be found within blocks of each other. “Romanesque architecture is the architecture of medieval castles and dungeons,” Turnham explained about the intended psychological effect of the former jail building’s construction.
Turnham elaborated on the last legal public hanging in Bell County and its consequences. George Hornsby was hung on Good Friday in 1922, but many believed he was innocent. The crowd’s response so disgusted attorney J.W. Thomas Sr., that he campaigned and was elected to the senate, where Thomas successfully passed legislation to end public executions in Texas.
Other highlights of the tour included the origins of Yettie Polk Park, the new hike and bike trail, the story of a massacre at the first jail in Belton, Sears catalog houses, and the history of the Sanctified Sisters.
Turnham described the story of the Chisholm Trail depicted on the column in the courtyard outside the Bell County Museum, as well as the museum’s growth since its inception.
At the tour’s conclusion across from the courthouse, Turnham recounted an event of criminal misunderstanding, prejudice, and vigilante justice.
“This is a story that’s bloody and gory, but you have to tell it, or it will happen again,” said Turnham of the shooting, dragging, and public desecration of Henry Gentry. “I’m sure Belton City Council is not proud of this story, but they didn’t do it. This was done 104 years ago, when attitudes were very, very, different.”
Locations where the Sanctified Sisters lived and owned land, where Nolan Creek flooded in 1913, and where soldiers arrived from Camp Hood were pointed out. Even the wild longhorn cattle from southern Texas came through the county on a feeder trail for the Chisholm Trail.
Today, The Gin, which was originally where farmers brought their cotton to sell, is helping to revive the Belton downtown area. The Justice Center, the Bell County Museum and the re-creating of the old Market Days on Central Avenue are a part of again changing the city and the county.
“It’s something that I’ve been wanting to know, the history of Belton,” said Irma Elser, owner of Trends and Treasures Boutique, and a Belton resident of 12 years. “I’ve always wanted somebody to give me a tour of the town. I wish they would do the cemetery tours as well.”
For more information on museum events, go to www.bellcountymuseum.org or call 254-933-5243.