Who knew the Bell County Jail in Belton sits on the site of a former indoor swimming pool that drew people from across Central Texas? Or that during the 1950s, the Civil War monument at the courthouse routinely fell prey to mischief and practical jokes by local teenagers on prom night?
Bell County Museum director Stephanie Turnham led 37 participants on the second Bell County Museum Summer Walking Tour on July 11.
The popular evening tour followed a short circuit around the courthouse, past the county jail, onto the bridge over Nolan Creek, and through historic downtown Belton. The event was free to all who showed up, and brochure guides were available for $2.
“I love history, especially World War II history, so this is right down my alley,” said Malena Gough of Temple. “This area is so rich in history, it’s wonderful.”
Participants trekked two hours through Bell County history, learning about the naming of Belton and Bell County and events that occurred through the Civil War, World War II and the turn of the 21st century.
The walk took travelers past Bell County’s oldest residence, and the site where Sam Houston tried to convince Bell County residents to remain part of the Union before the Civil War. Turnham related how this incident is mentioned in John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles of Courage.
A parking lot seems an unlikely stop, but it allowed Turnham to point out a pair of Sears and Roebuck catalog houses and relate the history of the Sanctified Sisters of Belton, affording a peak at the house where the Sisters lived just up the road.
Participants learned that the county engineers’ office was Belton’s bus station. Across the street from the Bell County Museum on Main Street is an art deco style building. Resembling a classic diner, it was the former bus stop “where the Foot Hood boys (training to fight German Panzer tanks) would exit to date girls from Baylor Female College,” Turnham said.
A brief stop outside the Bell County Museum allowed tourists to sit and rest their feet as Turnham interpreted the pole out front that explains the Chisolm Trail and Belton’s part in the cattle drives.
The tour concluded at the courthouse, where Turnham talked about an early 20th century series of tragedies that took place along part of Central Avenue in an area called “Rat Row,” which was lined with saloons, speakeasies and a brothel.
Gene and Lois Miller of Temple thought the tour was wonderful.
“My grandmother lived here in Belton, and we came here as little children,” Lois Miller said. “I swam in the natatorium, which she talked about (on the tour), and all of these places are familiar to me.”