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Liberty, Texas The best town in the world

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My name is Jimmy Roland Herndon. I lived at 718 Maryland Street until fall of 1956, when we moved to Cleveland. The kids that I went to school with called me Jim Roland.

I was born August 8, 1943, in the old Yettie Kirsting Hospital that was behind the icehouse. The icehouse was across the street from The Ott Hotel. You could get to it from an alley that was across the street from the courthouse. The alley was beside Chamblee Sandwich Shop. This was on the south side of the courthouse. You could also get to it from an alley on the north side of the icehouse. The hospital was later moved to the North side of town.

I started to school in September of 1949. My first and second grade teacher was Mrs. Huggins. At that time, the teacher you had in first grade was your second-grade teacher the next year. The Elementary teachers were great people. I still remember most of them. Even though I didn’t have some of them for a teacher, they all knew me. Mrs. LaCour was one of the nicest teachers I ever knew. She always knew me and would even call to me from across the street. The fact that I was never in her class made no difference to either of us. I loved her. My favorite teacher was my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Bingham. What a nice lady.

In Liberty, it made no difference if you were rich or poor. We had some extremely rich people and some very poor people. My family was one of the poor families. None of the kids I went to school with ever seemed to notice that we were poor. We lived in a shotgun shack on Maryland Street. There were three of those shacks. When I was born, we lived in a smaller one of them. Later, we moved to the middle one, and then shortly after I started school, we moved to the bigger house. We paid 4.00 per month for the little house, 6.00 a month for the medium house, and 8.00 for the bigger house. Those houses belonged to Mr. H.O. Compton, and he lived at the corner of Main and Grand Street. The house he lived in is no longer there as well as the old shacks on Maryland Street. Mr. Compton was a friend of my daddy.

There wasn’t a bathtub or shower in any of those three houses. We had an inside toilet, and that was all. We took a bath in a number three washtub. We had running water in the kitchen but no sink. We washed dishes in a big dishpan and dumped the water outside. My mother took in washing and ironing, kept kids, and cleaned houses for other people. She washed clothes outside in the same tub we took a bath in. She used a rub board. We had no washing machine. She rung clothes out by hand and hung them on a wire clothesline to dry. My daddy worked for the Texas Highway Department and made 20 cents an hour. My daddy was crippled, and it was hard for him to find work. My daddy went to work for Liberty County Gas in 1952 or 1953 and things got better for us after that.

I stated above that it made no difference if you were rich or poor in Liberty. A good example of that were the Scott boys. Up until 1950, they lived in the bigger of those 3 shotgun shacks. Gordon Jr was one of the most popular students at Liberty High School. He was voted Secretary-Treasurer of the Sophomore Class, Vice-President of the Junior Class, and President of the Senior Class. He was voted Best All-Around Boy and Best Athlete when he was a senior. He was from the Class of 1950. His brother Jimmy Scott was Vice-President of his Junior Class. There were many poor boys and girls that were very popular in Liberty schools. My brother, who was 10 years older than me, was very popular in school. He was friends with Jack Hartel, Dick Partlow, Sammy Rizzo, C.B. Cain, Jr., and many more of the more prominent kids in school. My brother did not finish school. He joined the Air Force during the Korean War. My daddy was a good friend with Tommy Hightower and Bill Daniels.

There were several really rich families in Liberty at that time. The John Meacom family, Price Daniel family, Bill Daniel family, the Middleton family, and others that I can’t remember. My brother and I were welcome in all their homes. Black people went to the movies, and we had a black policeman at that time.

In 1956, Liberty celebrated its 200th anniversary. There was a log cabin built on the northeast corner of the courthouse. I don’t know when it was taken down, but it is no longer there. There were many Hollywood Stars and celebrities that came for the celebration. John Wayne was a friend of Bill Daniels. He was there, and later on, Bill Daniels played Deaf Smith in “The Alamo.” There was a carnival set up around the square with lots of rides and such. I was raised in a church that didn’t allow us to go to the movies or carnivals. I never was allowed to go to the Trinity Valley Exposition. Therefore, I had never rode any of the rides. They couldn’t keep me from the rides during the bicentennial. Boy, did I have a good time.

I sold the Liberty Vindicator as a boy. I can remember most of the stores and where they were situated up until the 50s. If I start on the northside of the railroad, Hamilton Hardware was the first store on the right, then Gilliand Electric, Birdwell’s Dept Store, Liberty Man’s Shop, Echol’s Café, Lacks Store, Liberty Abstract, and Liberty Drug was on the corner. Going down the other side of the street toward the railroad, the first store was Griffin Drug, Western Auto, a woman’s dress shop, a beer joint, Million Brothers Dime Store, and Grimes Furniture Store. The beer joint closed, and Mr. Haltom opened up a department store in its place. Million Brothers moved to the old American Theatre building. The Milentz family owned the American Park and Drive-in movies. I can’t remember who moved into the Million Brothers spot. Across the street from Liberty Drug was the First National Bank, Audie Creel’s Jewelry Store, Presswoods Grocery, Butler and Grimes Dime Store, the Fair Store, The Grand Leader, The American Theatre, the QP grocery store, Liberty Hardware, and the First State Bank. The bank built a new building just down the street and moved there. Townsend’s Jewelry moved into the old bank.

The great thing about Liberty was the people. Bill Griffin who owned Griffin Drug, Mr. Moore who owned Western Auto, Mr. Hamilton who owned Hamilton Hardware, the Millions, Harley McAdams who owned Liberty Man’s Store, Mr. McGinny who owned McGinny Drug, Phil Silva who owned City Barber Shop, and Mr. Haywood who owned Liberty Hardware. We lived across the street from Mr. Haywood, and you could not ask for a better neighbor. Mr. And Mrs. Parker lived on the corner of Webster and Maryland, and there were great people. Mr. Grimes, Dr. Griffin, and Mr. Burch lived on Cos Street, and what nice people they were.

I couldn’t go to the movies, so on Saturday mornings, while the other kids were at the movies, I went shopping. I was known by all the store owners, and they never had to watch me because they knew I was not going to take anything I didn’t pay for. I worked for what I had. I sold bottles, raked, and mowed yards. I think I was liked by them as much as I liked them. They all knew me by name.

The new High School opened in fall of 1951. The actual dedication was May 27 of 1951. When I was in the third grade, my teacher Miss Ball married Mr. Nell, another teacher, over the Christmas holidays. When we came back after the holidays, she wanted us to call her Mrs. Nell. She would get real peeved if we didn’t. That was hard for a bunch of third graders. We had a real tragedy when I was in fourth grade. John Gilliand was killed when a tombstone fell on him in the cemetery close to his house. That was in the fall of 1952 or the spring of 1953. That was hard on us kids.

I could never have picked a place to be born and raised in that was better than Liberty. My daddy was sent to Cleveland by the Gas Company to take over the office there in October of 1956. I have nothing against Cleveland, but it was not Liberty. I will always love and cherish my time in Liberty. Some day before I die, I hope to go back to Liberty and spend a few days just walking the streets and talking to people. I would like the people of Liberty to know how much I love and respect the town and the people I knew back then. There were the best teachers in the world in Liberty schools. I couldn’t name them all, but there was Coach Westerfield, Mrs. Finley, Mrs. Blake, and all the others. How lucky can a bunch of kids get to have role models like that? God Bless all of them.

It is sad to think that it has been 66 years since we left Liberty, and the grown-up people I knew back then, are mostly all gone. The teachers I had in school were moral, religious, and patriotic. They taught us those same values. I hope the kids of today are taught those values. I consider myself to be a very lucky person to have lived the first 13 years of my life in Liberty. God Bless Liberty, my hometown.

- J.R. Herndon

Linden, Texas