Strolling Through the Past
A Look Back Into the History of Navarro County
The Weekend of History
By Stephen R. Farris
Special to the NavCo Chronicle
Greetings one and all! What a great weekend we had, beautiful weather and lots of local history that was enjoyed, as well as a historical start to this week. On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the official Texas Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony for Navarro County Pioneer, Meritt Drane, held at the State Home Cemetery Park and Plaza, and this past Monday, I was in attendance at the Navarro County Historical Society Banquet held at the Sirloin Stockade, where Mr. Rob Jones (lawyer and historian) was the guest speaker.
And, of course, I took a ton of pictures in my seated position these days.
On Saturday, the marker dedication for Meritt Drane was very well attended. Family members of the late Meritt Drane were also in attendance and included Stephen Drane, David N. Drane, and Jana Drane, wife of Stephen. Stephen is the great great grandson of Meritt Drane, and David is his and Jana’s son, and is the great great great grandson of Meritt Drane. Also in attendance were Jana’s brother and sister-in-law Larry and Jeanette Sharp. Unable to be there Saturday was Paula Caskey, Stephen’s sister and great great grand daughter of Meritt Drane.
The ceremony began with introductions made by Navarro County Historical Commission chairperson, Dr. Mary Jane McReynolds, then the invocation from Navarro County Commissioner, Pct. 3, Eddie Moore, followed by a few words from Corsicana Mayor, Mike Fletcher, and Navarro County Judge, H.M. Davenport, Jr.
State Home Alumni Association President, Lynn Taylor (who was accompanied by her husband, Tommy), and historian Wayne Rogers (instrumental for doing the research on Meritt Drane) were the keynote speakers at the ceremony. Taylor talked about the importance of the Corsicana State Home to the community, and how life was growing up there. Rogers talked about the many achievements of Meritt Drane, and his hand in supporting the state home and other entities in the Corsicana and Navarro County area.
Navarro College student, Simeon Banks – recipient of the Professor R.E. Rogers Scholarship, established by Wayne Rogers in memory of his grandfather, who taught school at Spring Hill, one of the oldest settlements in Navarro County when it was formed out of Robertson County – read the inscription on the marker after the unveiling by the Drane descendents.
Meritt Drane was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, according to the research by Rogers and what is inscribed on the marker, to Stephen and Birthia (Ford) Drane. Here is more of the following you can read from the marker when visiting the State Home Cemetery where it was erected Saturday:
“Meritt Drane exemplified leadership in early Navarro County. His father was a wealthy farmer and stock raiser. Meritt’s education consisted of homeschooling and learning how to manage his father’s agricultural pursuits. In 1858, he decided to set out for Texas. In his own words, “The fire of youth… inspired us to seek the unseen and untried.” In 1860, he married Malvina Todd Neal (1842-1896). The couple settled on 640 acres which his father later gave him near Corsicana. Unable to fight in the Confederate Army, due to disability, Drane helped conduct the business dealings of the wives whose husbands were at war. Ather the war, he focused on farming and stock raising, finding great success and teaching many of his neighbors farming techniques in the Blackland Soil.
In 1874, his family moved to Corsicana, from then to his death in 1895. Drane was a prominent business and civic leader in Corsicana and Navarro County. At first, he sold agriculture implements and machinery. He shared his business expertise to grow the commercial enterprises of the city. Later, he served on the school committee when the first three public schools were opened in 1882. The next year, Senator Roger Q. Mills named a new U.S. Post Office ‘Drane’ in honor of his many contributions to the county.
Drane also played an active role in establishing the state orphans asylum (later changed to State Orphan Home) in Corsicana. His attentive eye to its development and condition once opened in 1889 helped to make the home efficient and prosperous.
Meritt Drane’s dedication to economic prospects, education, and the community led to the growth of the area, benefitting both the county and the State of Texas.”
It should also be acknowledged that while serving on the school committee, he and other committee members were instrumental in the hiring of G.W. Jackson, the first black educator and principal of the colored schools in Corsicana. Jackson was also recognized earlier this year with a marker dedication which is on display at the plaza built on his former home site on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and South 5th Street.
This past Monday evening, the Navarro County Historical Society held their end of year banquet at the Sirloin Stockade in Corsicana. NCHS President, Bruce McManus, began the banquet by touching on some of the achievements and improvements made by the Society and at Pioneer Village during this past year. McManus also mention that there is a need for new members, as membership has dropped considerably over the past couple of decades. Talk has been made about a membership drive event, and to spread the word through other avenues, including social media and local press.
Some of the things that have occurred this past year at Pioneer Village is the housing of the Wolf Brand Chili car, and the total renovation of the Melton Kitchen, thanks in part to grants received from the Navarro Community Foundation. On December 2-3, A Prairie Little Christmas is scheduled to take place at Pioneer Village, featuring some of the cast members of the hit television series, Little House on the Prairie. Cast members will be at the village on both days greeting fans and signing books and autographs. The cost is $10 per person at the gate of Pioneer Village, located at 912 West Park Avenue on the southwest corner of Jester Park.
After a hearty meal, guest speaker, Navarro County native, lawyer, and historian, Rob Jones, gave a presentation about the early development of Navarro County, and the township of Corsicana. Jones has also been a past recipient of the NCHS Historian of the Year Award. The event was well attended and everyone enjoyed the wonderful presentation by Jones. Board member Lewis Palos gave the invocation.
As one of the former presidents of NCHS (2010-13), I’d like to invite you to join NCHS. Yearly dues are only $15 per year for an individual, $20 per year for a family membership, and $120 for a sustaining membership. Meetings are held quarterly in January, April, July, and November each year. Even if you’re unable to attend the meetings, you can still be a member of NCHS by choosing which option you’d prefer. You can also make a special donation in any amount to NCHS. Membership dues and donations are much needed and used for the maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and displays at Pioneer Village. As you know, supplies needed to maintain the buildings is very expensive, especially in this day and age. So every dollar given is much appreciated.
Help keep our local history alive, for your children, and grandchildren, by becoming a member of NCHS today!
Well folks, I guess that pert near wraps up another column. Hope you’ve enjoyed this one! Until next time, y’all take care now!