13. Bellaire History In Tangible Form

BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN

By Lynn McBee – © July 23, 2008

 History In Tangible Form

 This year’s Bellaire July 4th saw local history preserved in a new form – from aboard a trolley bus and with a prepared script read by a tour guide. Two hours of tours took place following a public recognition of Jeff Dunn, one of the “band of historians” recognized by Mayor Siegel, in a ceremony in Bellaire Zindler Park.

Jeff, an attorney, and Lea Dunn (she was a former Bellaire City Manager) and their two teen-age sons drove down from outside Dallas to Bellaire for the presentation of the special hourglass award from the City, which immediately followed the July Fourth parade. The Dunns were then escorted onto a trolley bus to view the town they left almost 15 years ago. During the tour over a dozen historic sites were identified. The tour began with the Official Texas Historic Marker in front of City Hall that contains a general description of Bellaire’s founding. The trolley bus then circled around our town in several loops which lasted about 20 minutes. It was a first and unique event.

The project was born in the Arts Commission conceived Centennial project of a Self-Guided History Walk from City Hall around the Paseo (Esplanade along Bellaire Boulevard) to be aided with free maps to guide walkers. It includes identifying Bellaire’s existing five Official Texas History Markers as well as ten newly designed ground markers. The Official Texas markers (researched by and placed in Bellaire during the early 1990s) are brass plates mounted on metal poles and inscribed with text of each site story. You probably have noticed the one in front of City Hall. You should read or reread it soon.

The new Bellaire markers will be of granite, installed in the ground with superimposed steel plates that will have etched drawings depicting each site’s original structure together with a description of it. The Arts Commission’s Self-Guided History Walk project was approved by both the Centennial Committee and City Council and will be paid for from remaining Arts Commission funds. It is currently underway and is expected to be completed by end of Centennial year 2008.

Funding to lease the July 4th trolley busses was contributed by the Bellaire Historical Society and the Parks and Recreation Department, authorized by the Centennial Committee and approved by City Council. This inaugural tour was narrated by the special script’s author and History Walk project chair, Kay Hieronymus, on behalf of the Arts Commission and the Bellaire Historical Society. Kay, with some theater arts background among her other skills, wore a period costume to lend flavor to the reading.

On board the first trolley was the Dunn Family joined by the presenter of the award to Jeff Dunn, C. David Pomeroy, Jr., a noted Pasadena historian and his wife. What was of particular interest to me, also onboard, was the look of total attention and surprise on the Dunns’ faces — like seeing an author’s work come alive depicted as if on screen. The amount of historical information imparted by Kay and her script was impressive, much of it from original research conducted by Jeff Dunn.

Many on board learned of things they never knew. The “Little Brown,” Bellaire’s first one-room schoolhouse on Cedar, was built in 1910 for the first 20 students in grades first through seventh. The County School District provided the school but only with the help of Mr. A.J. Condit, then an employee of W.W. Baldwin’s South End Construction Co., the developer of Bellaire Townsite and Westmoreland Farms. Also Rosner’s General Store and post office on Cedar at South Rice, later replaced by Kelly’s Hardware Store (founded in the 1930s by the Zenas Kelly family and sons Earl and Larry). Across the street on South Cedar was Damon’s Hardware Store, subsequently replaced by Starbucks and the strip shopping center there now. Cedar Street was the center of the old “downtown Bellaire.”

The trolley bus passengers seemed enthralled at hearing about the mix of a Texas Revolution site (“Deaf” Smith marker) to the turn of the twentieth century structures noted above, to this year’s most recent installation of the Arts Commission project on the Paseo of “Sunrise, Sunset” by Cindy Cozewith. From the years 1830s to 2008 spanned a mix of events and construction in Our Town that had not previously been presented in quite the same way, as did the trolley tour.

The trolley tour also included these sites: Bellaire’s WWII war memorial; the Trolley; the trolley Pavilion (soon to be demolished); Bellaire Presbyterian Church (now Christchurch-Presbyterian); the original A.J. Condit house on Bellaire Boulevard; Teas Nursery (at the same original site as in 1910); the Hana and Arthur Ginzbarg Nature Discovery Center and Russ Pitman Park. Everyone was impressed by the range of accomplishments depicted by Kay’s great script.

The Self-Guided History Tour yet to be completed could, one day, is a real tourist attraction. It certainly could draw new and former Bellaire residents to better understand the town’s roots. I am so impressed by Bellaire’s history recorders, Moppy Gay and Mildred Hawks, editors of the 1968 Bellaire Women’s Civic Club “Bellaire’s First Historical Cookbook;” the Official Texas History Markers; the archives of the Bellaire Historical Society; by Jeff Dunn on its behalf; and by Elnora Kelly Pelton’s “As the Meadowlarks Sang.” The “Cookbook” is still available for purchase at $5 at the Bellaire Library.

Bellaire citizens should stand proud of these recorders, preservationists and authors. Many smaller towns brag on much less but also have local museums. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to add to the upcoming Centennial Self-Guided History Walk with an expansion of the Bellaire Library for a future “Bellaire Library and Museum”? Wouldn’t it be also wonderful to have many of the new Bellaire residents become members and supporters of the Bellaire Historical Society? I’ll be looking for you along the new History Walk.

If you are interested in preservation and history, would you also be interested in an annual trolley bus tour? Maybe the Bellaire Historical Society emboldened by a surge of new supporters and members might sponsor this together with recognition of residents who represent successor generations of original Bellaire pioneers. Maybe a pictorial “Bellaire” book might come about or a permanent website, “History of Bellaire,” could be offshoots of our being 100 years of age. Maybe art in the community might be one legacy of these100 years of maturation. What are your thoughts?

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Click to view the history map.

lynnmb@hal-pc.org

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