Charlie Guidry says the history of Killeen is all around us, pointing out that fact while standing on a patch of ground where Killeen’s first school once stood.
It burned down in 1923 and was rebuilt in nearly the same place. The building housed the city’s students until 1940. Residents now know the building as Killeen City Hall.
Just across the street is the Boys & Girls Club Bingham Unit on Avenue B. That was the site of Killeen’s first hospital and clinic, and the place where Guidry was born.
“I’m a native Killeenite,” he said. “I was born and raised here, so this is a great fit for me.”
Guidry is one of about 150 members of the Killeen Area Heritage Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the city’s history and educating residents about Killeen’s past.
The group formed in 1983, holding meetings at homes of its founding members.
“There wasn’t any group like that back then,” said Henry Lucksinger, who along with his wife, Annette, was among the group’s founders.
KAHA isn’t the only group in the area preserving history.
When Stephanie Turnham joined the Bell County Museum in Belton in 1994, artifacts were housed in a smaller building. Now, the museum has grown in size and visitors as it expands and adds more buildings and exhibits.
Turnham estimates the museum, which was established in 1991, only had about 3,000 visitors 20 years ago.
The number of visitors grew to 10,126 in 2012 and more than doubled the following year, with 20,675 visitors in 2013.
“As the county has grown, so has the museum,” said Turnham, director of the museum. “The result is that we’ve got this wonderful facility. It’s free. We don’t charge an admission fee to come in, and it’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.”
The museum also has a research center, which features hundreds of books and documents about genealogy and county history. Turnham also said the museum has a “gold mine” of information that residents can use in-house.
“It’s important for youths to know the struggles and triumphs of their families and their ancestors,” she said. “Local history is really important to people and to the community. It’s important to preserve the past. It’s extremely important to do that for the future.”
Turnham said the museum preserves the past through a well-cared-for collection of items, most of which were donated by residents.
“I hope that we will be able to keep up with the growth happening in our area, but storage space for the collection is always an issue with all museums,” she said.
Kim Kroll, chairwoman of the Bell County Historical Commission, said the organization conducted many projects to preserve history in the county, including creating a digital version of the “Story of Bell County,” which features photos and entries from families who grew up in Bell County throughout its history.
Kroll said the commission also has an active cemetery committee that looks for and documents “missing cemeteries.”
“They’re (cemeteries) that we know are there, but we can’t find them,” she said. Once the committee locates the cemeteries, which are sometimes small and on private land, they add them to a master list of all the cemeteries in Bell County. Every couple of years, a map is printed for historical record-keeping.
Kroll said the commission could use more members as it works to identify historical places or locations in danger of being forgotten.
She said there isn’t a comprehensive list of all the historical markers in the county, but each city has their own catalog of historic sites. She said there are 254 sites listed in the Texas Historical Commission Atlas that have a historic designation in Bell County.
As a society, Kroll said history is slowly being forgotten.
“You have to know where you’ve been,” she said. “It’s extremely important that we understand our history, so we can honor the people who were here before and that we learn from our mistakes.”
Back in Killeen, KAHA recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Today, the group operates out of an old church on Gray Street. In addition to helping preserve historical buildings, the association has collected hundreds of items, photos and documents from the city’s storied history, which dates back to Killeen’s founding in 1882.
Those items include everything from the organ used by the California Hotel in downtown Killeen and the christening dress worn by the infant daughter of Killeen’s first mayor to one of Elvis Presley’s dental X-rays.
“A lot of the items are donated by family members,” said Guidry, KAHA’s president-elect and a history professor at Central Texas College. “We are kind of the keepers of the castle as far as history goes.”
Despite the city’s reputation for being a transient community with explosive growth, Guidry said he stresses the value of not only collecting and curating such items, but using them to tell the story of Killeen. “(History) shapes who we are today.”
He said the association is always looking for new members.
“Thirty years later, and we’re just getting warmed up,” Guidry said.