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Home a link to Fort Hood’s past

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Posted: Monday, April 30, 2012 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

White with clapboard siding, Reynolds House - the only surviving building to predate Fort Hood - stands out amid the post's predominantly flat, tan architectural landscape.

Equally distinct is the building's history, one that gives insight into the Killeen that existed long before Fort Hood.

"I knew some of the Reynolds," said Polly Peaks-Elmore, a retired federal employee and amateur historian. "They were very prominent old hometown people."

Peaks-Elmore, 81, moved to Killeen from North Texas in 1946, four years after 470 families were displaced by the creation of Fort Hood. Among them was Hiram Reynolds, a well-off farm investor and cotton broker with stores in Nolanville and Belton.

Reynolds, a Tennessee native, married Hettie Mize Hall, a widow, in 1904. The family moved to Killeen from the Sparta area and built their home in 1915 on one of their farms, which produced small grains, corn, cotton and livestock.

The Victorian-style building had five bedrooms, a parlor, kitchen, dining room, butler's pantry, carbide lights and a bathroom, and was "an unusually fine structure" for its time and place, said Peaks-Elmore.

The Fort Hood Red Cross now occupies the building. Assistant station chief Liz Schmidt said signs of the Reynolds' social standing are still obvious throughout the home.

For example, Schmidt - who once worked as a tour guide at a historical home in Duluth, Minn. - pulled out "pocket" doors in the parlor during a recent informal tour. Families such as the Reynolds would have closed off their parlor to hold "calling days," she said.

"You'd get a calling card, meaning you'd been invited to come visit the family," said Schmidt. "Families who were wealthy and prestigious held calling days for people in the community to come out and meet them and talk."

Forced to move

Despite their status in the community, even the Reynolds were forced off the land following the Second War Powers Act, said III Corps and Fort Hood historian Richard Powell.

"That gave the government enhanced powers of eminent domain, and so they didn't have to wait for a perfect title before they (claimed the land)," he said. "The transfer went from voluntary to compulsory."

In early 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, residents of the 30 communities that existed on modern-day Fort Hood were given notice to evacuate their properties.

"On average, people got paid $30 an acre," said Powell, adding that they had a little more than two weeks to vacate the property.

Eventually, all but two original homes were torn down to make way for the construction of Fort Hood.

One, home to an elderly woman, was physically moved to downtown Killeen.

The other, the Reynolds house, was preserved. It's unclear exactly why the house was left unscathed, but its size and beauty played a role. Powell said it was home to Fort Hood's commanding general for some time.

Remodeled in 1954 to include modern electricity, heating and plumbing, records show it has been the home of numerous general officers and senior noncommissioned officers since, said Peaks-Elmore.

The Reynolds house location, near what is now the Warrior Way Commissary and far from Fort Hood's training impact areas, also played in its favor, said Powell.

It was designated as the Reynolds House Outreach Center in 1981 and is now home to the Red Cross.

Although the old place has its quirks, such as trapping heat in the summer and cold in the winter, Schmidt said it has its charms.

"We like it as a staff," she said, adding that she and her Red Cross cohorts refer to it as "home," not an office. "It's a nice place, a comforting place to work."

Smooth transition

Despite the upheaval the creation of Fort Hood meant for families who inhabited it, Peaks-Elmore said the transition went smoothly and was ultimately good for the surrounding communities.

"Fort Hood has saved the land of this area and given new life and hope to the hometown people," she said. "I doubt if Killeen would even still exist (if it hadn't been established)."

It wasn't always certain Fort Hood would be in the Bell County area, said Powell. Original plans were for the installation - planned to support the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center - to be built in Valley Mills. But local business and public officials, including Killeen Daily Herald founding publisher Frank W. Mayborn, lobbied for the post's establishment where it stands today.

Powell said there was little public outcry from Fort Hood residents at the time, which politicians took for acceptance of the plan.

But, said the historian, "If you go back and study the oral histories of these families, they didn't have any faith they would be able to do anything about it, so they didn't complain."

Hiram Reynolds died in 1929, but members of the Reynolds family continued to live in the house until 1942 and moved to the surrounding communities following their eviction.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.

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