Conversation #2 – at the Calaboose

We found the Calaboose African American History Museum some time ago as we were driving around San Marcos and today we stopped by. It’s open on Saturdays. Here’s a brief version of the Calaboose’s history:

“Originally constructed as a county jail in 1873, the city of San Marcos acquired this building in 1885 and turned it into a community recreation center after the county built a stone replacement jail. The Calaboose (from the Spanish word meaning dungeon or local jail), as it came to be called, was enlarged in the 1940s and used as a World War II United Service Organization (USO) center for African American servicemen at a time when segregation kept black and Anglo soldiers from mingling. Local African American historian Johnnie Armstead fought to preserve the site. Her contributions included raising money for renovation, creating the museum, acquiring most of its artifacts and leading the effort to obtain a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation for the building.”

We went to the Calaboose as part of our history hunt, but our visit turned into a conversation thanks to Diana. Diana welcomed us as we entered the Calaboose and as she introduced us to the museum, I asked if she would be willing to be one of my 52 Conversations and she agreed. Diana teaches first grade here in San Marcos and it turned out that we share of love of children’s books. She reads them to her students and seemed intrigued that I read them to college students. She even suggested a new author for me to look for. We discovered this shared appreciation because, the Calaboose has a collection of children’s books which includes one of my favorites, Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss. Finding Ruth and the Green Book several years ago was my introduction to this important story of African-American travel in the United States during segregation.

Diana was so welcoming to us and walked us through the museum, showing us the incredibly small space that was the original building used to house prisoners. This is now the entry area and is used to house a rotating art gallery currently showing some truly lovely works by Texas State students. We walked through the larger area, the one used as a U.S.O. It is filled with exhibits about local members of the community. It was easy to imagine dancers filling the room, especially with the strains of music from a video montage about Eddie Durham, a renowned jazz musician from San Marcos.

Exhibits included a picture of teachers in the “colored department” of the Southwest Texas Teachers Institute, World War II uniforms, and photographs of members of the African-American community throughout the years. But the most haunting was the anonymous donation of a Ku Klux Klan robe from the San Marcos Klan No. 124 and the article reporting a Klan gathering with 20,000 estimated to be in attendance. My husband’s comment was that he’d never seen an actual Klan robe and neither had I.

Diana told me she’s a new Board member and staffing the Museum is one of the responsibilities of the Board. I asked how she had come to join the Board, and she told me she is a Bahá’í and she is the representative of the local Bahá’í community to the board. Not only did she welcome us to the Museum, she told me about the Cinema Club, a group that brings movies to San Marcos that might not be shown here otherwise. She invited me to a celebration of World Religions Day held by the Unitarian Universalist community in town. She also explained about the MLK Day parade to be held on Monday and the annual fundraiser for the Calaboose.

I appreciated Diana taking time to talk with me beyond her role of welcoming visitors to the Museum. She also invited me into the greater community through all she shared with me about her San Marcos experience and about the Calaboose and the complex history it represents.

History Hunt #2

Saturday was another glorious day to spend exploring San Marcos. We decided to find the three cemeteries listed on the Stopping Points website we have been using to locate historical markers. I find the small stories told by the headstones intriguing and am fascinated by the history revealed through the family groupings and various plots.

Our first stop was the Pitts Cemetery, because it was closest to our home. This cemetery is locked and we weren’t able to explore the grounds.

“John Drayton Pitts was born at sea on August 26, 1798, during the voyage of his parents, John and Jane Pitts, from England to Charleston, South Carolina. … and in 1843 eleven Pitts families moved to Texas. … Pitts Cemetery began in 1850 with the burial of John Malone, infant son of James L. and Eliza (Pitts) Malone and grandson of Eliza and John D. Pitts. … The cemetery continues to serve as a burial site for the descendants of John D. and Eliza Pitts.” (From the Historical Marker)

Our next stop was the San Marcos City Cemetery. We wandered the grounds for nearly an hour looking at the gravestones, old and new. This is both an old cemetery and an active one so there is quite a range of dates and styles.

“This cemetery lies within the Mexican land grant acquired by Thomas J. Chambers in 1834. Chambers died in 1865 and in 1867 his widow, Abbey, sold 3,000 acres containing this site to H. N. Duble at an estate sale held in Galveston. A portion of the cemetery site was purchased by Freedman Peter Roberts in Galveston in 1868. Local tradition suggests that slaves of the area’s earliest settlers were buried here prior to the first recorded burial, that of Major C. Rogers in 1876.” (From the Historical Marker.)

On our way to the third cemetery we unexpectedly found a fourth that wasn’t on the list we were using. However, I later found a website that told us about all of the cemeteries in the county. (See the resource page for the link.) Most of them are on private property, but this one was open so we explored it as well.

“Guadalupe Cemetery or Cemetery de Guadalupe as it is named in Spanish is a Hispanic cemetery located a short distance out of San Marcos on the old Austin Highway (Post Road). … There are many graves in the cemetery which are not marked. Many are marked with only funeral home markers which are temporary as they are easily destroyed, unintentionally, while mowing or raking grass. (From the Hays Historical Commission website, see Resources.)

Next we went to the final cemetery on the list, the San Marcos-Blanco Cemetery.  We only took a few pictures there since a staff member was clearing up after a funeral and we didn’t want to take pictures of that work. It is a beautiful, serene place.

“In 1893 five trustees of the newly formed San Marcos and Blanco Cemetery Association purchased 10.62 acres of land from w. O. and Leonora Hutchison. … The land purchased was intended for use as a cemetery by the African American citizens of the communities of Nance’s Mill and Mountain City, together known as the Blanco community. The graveyard site was located midway between the two communities. The site was called the San Marcos Colored Cemetery. More than 300 graves are marked with headstones and exist along with numerous unmarked graves. among those buried here are teachers, farmers and ministers.”

I’m intrigued with looking around cemeteries and all four of these were fascinating each in their own way. But together they tell a story of San Marcos’ history. The Pitts Cemetery serves as an example of the many family graveyards throughout the county. The other three, San Marcos Cemetery, Cemeterio Guadalupe, and San Marcos-Blanco, each one further out from the heart of the city, are stark reminders of the history of segregation in our communities.

If you haven’t explored a cemetery, I highly recommend it. Exploring the multiple cemeteries of San Marcos taught us a complex story of our community.

Conversation 1.05

This past week I talked with two very helpful people but I decided I don’t get to count either one toward my total.
The first person was a librarian at the San Marcos Public Library who said they shouldn’t be one of my conversations because they don’t live here. I’m honoring that wish (which is why I’m using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun), however, this person was delightful and very helpful. They showed me the locations of several oral histories from San Marcos, both audio and video, gave me suggestions of a couple of people to talk to. They pointed me toward a book with a section on collecting oral histories and while I’m not really collecting oral histories, there are certainly similarities. The librarian took my name and email address in case they had other thoughts and ideas. Even though I left the library with a book to read rather than a conversation to report, I left encouraged about the project. Better yet, I got an email the next day about a stalled library project that is somewhat related to what I’m trying to do and would benefit from “an enthusiastic volunteer.” I want to learn more before I commit to this expansion, but it was intriguing. More on that one after I’ve learned more about it.
The second person is the director of the San Marcos LBJ museum. His name is James Martin and I just dropped in to see if he was available or willing to make an appointment. He asked me to make an appointment and then spent twenty minutes with me. I have an appointment with him later in the week to learn more about the museum and his role as director, so that will be our official conversation #2. But I left his office with a list of suggestions of people and organizations to talk to in my quest to learn more about my new hometown.
People are a little perplexed at my request, but as I had hoped, they are interested in talking about events, experiences, and projects they care about. Both people I talked to clearly care about the San Marcos community and its people. Didn’t accomplish Converstion #2 in week two but it is scheduled and that’s the first step. Look for a post about the LBJ Musuem next week!
This weekend we went on another history hunt. If you’re intrigued by old cemeteries, I think you’ll enjoy some of the interesting history of the creation of the four local cemeteries we visited. And we had another gorgeous Saturday so I think there will be good photos as well. That will be up in a couple of days. But here’s a picture of the solitary peacock we saw at the San Marcos Cemetery.
If you have ideas, suggestions, or questions, please let me know and we’ll learn more together!

Conversations – or why does an introvert want to spend a year talking to strangers?

I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again….Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard , and we each listen well.

Margaret J. Wheatley

I first read Margaret J. Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World more than fifteen years ago and I’ve considered myself one of her students ever since then. I was, and still am, captivated by the rethinking of organizational and leadership dynamics. But I think my favorite of all her books may be Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, the source of the quote above, because I think she’s right. We need to be willing to talk to the people around us.

Oddly, for an introvert, I chose a people career. Though I didn’t know it then, I was starting my career in higher education during my junior year in college when I took a position as a Resident Assistant (RA). Here I was, someone who had barely left her room as a first-year student, and now my job was to help a group of forty new students in their transition to college. And I learned my first lesson on my first day – one I share with new RAs when I talk with them and one I often share with people who aspire to leadership – to be successful as an RA (or as a leader), you have to leave your room.

You have to leave that comfortable space you’ve created. You have to be willing to knock on a stranger’s door and say hello. You have to be the person who takes the first step. Not usually considered an introvert’s favorite thing to do. And yet I worked up my nerve and did it. Over and over, throughout my career, I have faced times when I need to ‘leave my room’ and talk with people.

My job now is not campus based. I’m now an educational consultant, working out of my home and traveling to a variety of campuses to do my job. It’s a particularly difficult combination for getting to know a new hometown. So I have a choice just as I did in college. I can choose to stay at home, do my job, play with the dogs, and explore San Marcos with my husband. Or, I can choose to ‘leave my room.’ If I want to get to know people in my new community, I have to find a way to ‘knock on doors’ and meet them.

But, while speaking to strangers at various events is possible, this kind of conversation is random and pretty superficial for the most part and I can weasel out of it easily. Setting myself a goal and blogging about it creates a frame work that pushes me to leave my comfort zone and gives me a reason to talk to a variety of people about topics they care about. And that of course, gives them a reason to be willing to talk with me.

And that’s what gets a introvert to plan on talking to 52 people over the course of a year – because I agree with Margaret Wheatley, we need to find ways to be in conversation, to be in community, and to reach out to each other. After all this time, I’m still working on the first lesson – leaving my room.

History Hunt #1

This past Saturday, my husband and I took the modern equivalent of a compass and a chart and went to look for San Marcos landmarks. Our compass was my cell phone. Our chart was a listing from the internet of Hays County Points of Interests – historical makers, cemeteries, churches, and historical homes. It worked well enough, but midway through the morning, I have to admit I missed having a paper map. We were never lost, but it would have helped me understand where we were, exactly.

When we found the site of the original settlement of Villa San Marcos de Neve, we were only seven or so miles from the center of town yet it felt like we were a long way out in the country. Of course, the San Marcos River has changed significantly in the more than 200 years since the first settlement failed, but it is still beautiful even in the dead of winter.

While reading about the burial site of Royalist Lieutenant Colonel Horacio Elizondo, we were entranced by the antics of a beautiful pair of Cardinals. They were flying back and forth from a tangle of trees and bushes to a truck parked on the side of the road. They were fascinated by their reflections in the passenger window and the sideview mirror, but this was the best picture we could get.

We ended the morning’s jaunt at Stokes Park. It’s the site of a former mill on one of the four Thompson’s Plantations. The mill was constructed by slaves and some of the architecture of the mill is still visible. It’s become a favorite local swimming hole and is also the site of a current controversy over Cape’s Dam which was built to support the mill. The dam was damaged by recent floods and some members of the community want to preserve their history and others want to return the San Marcos River to a more natural course. I don’t know enough to know the answer to that question, but in its current configuration, it was a beautiful, peaceful spot on Saturday.

Later when we looked at a larger map, we realized we had driven a lot, but hadn’t traveled very far. As my husband said, we had learned a lot in a small area. If you would like to learn a bit more about some of these sites, check out the links on the Resources page. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning, and I hope we have another gorgeous day the next time we wander San Marcos looking for history.

Conversation #1

Image from the San Marcos Celtic Festival Facebook page (used with permission)

It was December 28th and I had decided to try this crazy idea of 52 Conversations. But about what? I had narrowed the list of possibilities, but hadn’t made a decision. Then a post about the 4th Annual San Marcos Celtic Festival showed up on my Facebook page.

For more information about Green Men, please see the Resources page.

This Festival was the first community event my husband and I attended after we moved here last December and it was everything we have come to love about San Marcos. (Thanks to for posting the information on their Hill Country Calendar!) It was fun, easy to participate in, (not huge crowds or terrible parking), people were friendly and there was just enough to see, do, and listen to. And I bought these two small sculptures that now greet anyone who enters my home office.

So, I did what any person embarking on a crazy venture would do. I scrolled through the Facebook page for the Festival looking for someone’s contact information. I found the email address for the vendor coordinator and sent her an email asking if she would be willing to meet with me. Luckily for me, Virginia was not only willing, she responded that day with possible meeting locations. Thanks to Virginia, I started the first day of the new year with Conversation #1.

And what a great way to start this new project. Virginia has been involved with the San Marcos Celtic Festival all four years and freely admits it began as an excuse to bring together people who like Irish music, Celtic history, and arts. It’s still true that music and art are still the primary focus of the celebration. This year there will be musical performances all afternoon in the main room, a harpist in a separate space and a bagpiper roaming through the San Marcos Activity Center. Dance groups will come from Lubbock (Morris Dancers) and Austin (Irish Dancers). There will be kid-friendly events with craft and coloring tables and soft-tip archery.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Virginia. Of course, I learned more about the Celtic Festival – this year I need to look for the space in the building where anyone who wants to can stop and join in the jam session. I learned about an important difference between the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and Viking reenactment group – the SCA uses rattan weaponry and the Viking group uses ‘live steel’. Who knew?

Best of all, I learned about Virginia. In addition to working on the San Marcos Celtic Festival, she’s a musician. Look for her band O’Malarkey to perform at the Festival and in venues around the Hill Country. And, she makes Renaissance and Victorian Era clothing. She has developed a line of wedding dresses for people who get married at Renaissance Fairs. I shouldn’t be surprised, but again, who knew? I checked out her websites and her clothing is beautiful. Maybe I can understand the allure of having a medieval ceremony! While Virginia doesn’t live in San Marcos proper, she’s clearly an active member of our community. When I asked her about her favorite part of San Marcos, her answer was immediate – “great people”.

If Virginia is any example of the people I am going to have the opportunity to meet this year, then I have no doubt, I’ll have the same answer. Thank you, Virginia for getting my project off to such a delightful start. Conversation #1 was a delight!

Next post will be a bit of history – I’m going hunting for historical markers this weekend – while I line up conversation #2. We’ll see who’s next.

Project for the New Year

How much do you know about your hometown?

If you’re like me, you know your favorite places to eat, your routes to and from work or school, and your ‘part of town’ however you might define that. Over time you’ll probably learn some history, try some new places, but, if you’re like me, there’s still a lot to learn. When I’ve moved to new towns, I’ve explored the town, tried out various restaurants, learned a bit about its history, but in a hit-or-miss, happenstance sort of way always knowing there was much I hadn’t found. A year ago, we moved from Austin, Texas, population 950,715, to San Marcos, Texas, population 61,980. We have thoroughly enjoyed exploring our new community and we’ve made an effort to explore it, but there’s still much I don’t know about this town nicknamed, ‘San Marvelous’. This year, I thought I might learn about my new hometown in a new, more focused way rather than attending random events as a spectator.

And so this new blog was born. During 2019, my goal is to learn about San Marcos by having conversations with 52 people to learn about our community through their experiences. Along the way, I’ll attend events, read some history, and explore parts of San Marcos new to me. 

I decided to do this when thinking about the idea of a one word resolution. I liked the idea for the obvious reason that it will be fun to learn more about my community. But it’s more than that – it fits into the ideas behind the One Word idea, because it will push me out of my comfort zone. To make this work, I will have to email and converse with a series of complete strangers and I have no idea how many people will be interested and willing to join me in conversation. We’ll see how it goes.

To start us off, here’s a bit of history: “Archeologists have found evidence at the San Marcos River associated with the Clovis culture, which suggests that the river has been the site of human habitation for more than 10,000 years. The San Marcos Springs are the third-largest collection of springs in Texas. Never in recorded history has the river run dry.”,_Texas 

I hope you’ll join me as I explore my new home and share what I am learning about this interesting community. My next post will be about my first conversation with one of the coordinators of the San Marcos Celtic Festival, a lovely person who immediately said yes to my invitation. 2019’s project is off to a great start!