STORY AND PHOTOS BY ANN BUSH // July/August 2017
Tom’s Cafe seems frozen in a time long ago. Red round stools with silver legs are lined along a café counter that barely has enough room for customers to eat between salt and pepper shakers, ketchup bottles and ashtrays.
Sunshine pours in through curtains framed by red plaid curtains. It’s the kind of day in which patrons long ago would have been thinking about a cold drink and coconut cream pie.
Tom’s Cafe is one of the attractions of Heritage Park Museum of East Texas located in Edgewood, Texas. For over 20 years, Edgewood Historical Society has moved and restored 31 historic buildings to a three-block area creating a 1900s’-era village stocked with an extensive collection of antiques.
Looking around the cafe, once known as the “Bloody Bucket” because of the rowdiness caused by too much bootleg whiskey, I wonder if this is what my grandmother’s café in West Texas looked like when I was a toddler.
In 1932, Tom’s Cafe was located on newly built U.S. Highway 80 and lured motorists roaring down the road looking for refreshments. A tattered newspaper clipping on the wall tells of when notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde once stopped for a Coke and hamburger.
Also in Heritage Park is the Gilliam Grocery, which originally was on Highway 80 in Fruitvale. The Gilliam family operated the store and service station from the early 1920s until 1965. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1936 and then rebuilt. The proprietors sold everything a farmer could want, from candy to kerosene to chicken feed.
In 1992, the building was moved to Heritage Park, restored and stocked with authentic Gulf products and grocery store items.
Around the corner from the store, is a one-room school that for decades served the children of the small Myrtle Springs community. It has been restored and furnished with period school desks and books. A picture of Abe Lincoln hangs on the wall.
The park’s carriage house is full of antique cars and at what was the original Murchison train depot, crates and suitcases are ready to be loaded onto a train. The caboose and boxcar on display once rolled down the Cotton Belt Railroad running through cotton country in Texas and Arkansas.
The park’s two log cabins are in remarkable condition and furnished with bits and pieces of the past. One of the cabins was built in 1898 by Adolphus Spradlin and his wife on their property in the Van Zandt County community of Small.
The dogtrot cabin’s central breezeway helped capture the breeze and keep things as comfortable as possible during hot, sultry, dog-days of summer.
The other cabin is made of crude, hand-hewn notched logs. It was built in 1874 on the Sabine River by James Scott, who lived there with his wife and seven children. It is the oldest structure in Heritage Park. The cabin’s kitchen is furnished with its original furniture and utensils.
Heritage Park’s church building sits gracefully near fragrant pink rose bushes. It has polished pews, a restored organ and white steeple The Edgewood Methodist congregation built the enduring church in 1897 and used it faithfully until 1923. Lovingly referred to as the “little Church in the Wildwood,” it was moved to Edgewood in 1926 by the African American community of the Bethlehem Baptist Congregation who used it as their spiritual center.
Also at the park are a log barn full of hay and corn huskers and a bright candy-cane barber shop with a sign that beckons visitors inside to faded red barber chairs.
As noon approaches, most of those who came with me to Heritage Park walk to downtown for refreshments. I, however, linger by the old Scott’s Store. I’m fascinated by the colorful spindles of thread used by farmwives to sew clothing. By the time I reach the nearby blacksmith’s shop, I am almost alone. The village is quiet.
Sunshine streams through cracks in the walls and reveals a wagon wheel on a table near a wall of tools. A worn-out saddle and large bale of cotton rest in a corner.
Although all is silent, these relics of the past tell their stories through the slashes in the wood, nicks in the iron and tanned patches on the soft leather.
If You Go
The park is on FM 859 four blocks from U.S. Highway 80. Museum and gift shop hours are 9 a.m. to noon Thursday through Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children. An education program for third- and fourth-grade students includes a tour and demonstrations by docents in period costumes.
Edgewood Heritage Festival takes place the second Saturday of November and includes a car show, food vendors and volunteers who demonstrate aspects of pioneer life.
For more information, go to edgewoodheritagepark.org or call 903-896-1940.