What’s the Future of the 1939 Linden Firehouse? What’s Next for Downtown?

At a meeting in April 2019 the Linden Heritage Foundation Board received an update on the status of the the 1939 Linden Firehouse.  Information was presented by Joe Lovelace, Sue Lazara and Mark Thacker, Restoration Architect from Tyler.

2019 Linden Heritage Foundation Directors. From bottom left: Jo Anna Duncan, Barbara Teachey, Gail Dorgan, Lanita Williams, Brenda Deming, Joe B. Lovelace, Pat Rountree, Jana Bounds, Sandra Skoog, Wanda Burns, and Becky Wilbanks. Not shown; John Knapp. Photo courtesy of Neil Abeles.

The “Old Linden Firehouse” built in 1939 with funds and material donated by its citizens is a remarkably simple structure.  It served its initial purpose until the City had need for more room for its firefighting equipment.  In 1949, a second floor was added to the 1939 building and a north addition was built.

The firehouse remained in operation until 1962 when a new fire station was completed. The older building afterward had various uses until being abandoned.  It fell into serious disrepair in recent decades, during which water infiltration and damage accelerated to the point of serious endangerment of the structure.

Pointing out serious and rapidly advancing endangerment due to roof collapse, Linden Heritage Foundation made an offer to the City of Linden which allowed the Foundation assume title to the Old Firehouse along with contractual responsibility to stabilize, to restore, and to identify future uses that contribute positively to the economic revitalization of Linden’s downtown commercial district.

In January 2016 the City of Linden conveyed the Old Firehouse to the Linden Heritage Foundation.

Following shows the condition of the structure in 2016 before the Foundation efforts to stabilize it.

Collapsed roof of the 1949 north addition is on the left. The roof of the original 1939 structure is on the right. Aerial photo courtesy of Kerry Wells (January 2016).
Collapsed roof of 1949 north addition. Photo by Kerry Wells (January, 2016)
Second floor 1949 addition, south view. 2016 photo courtesy Sam Higdon.
Ground floor of 1939 Firehouse, north view to stairs to second floor. 2016 photo courtesy Sam Higdon.

The Linden Heritage Foundation conducted four Firehouse Clean-Up Days and added a supportive roof covering the structure to secure it.

Supportive roof covering. 2018 photo courtesy of Kerry Wells.
1949 north addition. 2018 photo courtesy of Joe Lovelace.
Second floor of 1949 addition, south view. 2018 photo courtesy of Joe Lovelace
Ground floor of 1939 Fire House, south view. 2018 photo courtesy of Joe Lovelace.

In November 2016, the LHF received a Texas Preservation Trust Fund grant from the Texas Historical Commission for a Historic Structure Report (HSR) for the Old Linden Firehouse.  In July 2017. the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded preservation funds for Plans & Specifications (P&S).

The Firehouse Clean-Up Days, along with reports from preservation experts, established the structural elements from 1939-1949 to be not only historically significant but retained fair to good integrity.  This was not true for the structural elements dating post-1949.  The 1949 addition was of substandard materials and poor design/workmanship.

However, the Historic Structure Report team established a Period of Significance (POS) 1939-1962 not 1939-1949 as requested by the Foundation.  The longer POS attached to the building by that finding led to a functionally challenged, fragmented and compartmentalized structure – more than 2/3 of which would not meet legal occupancy requirements.

The original use plan specified by the Foundation was commercial/retail.  However, as applied to the POS 1939-1962 it proved to be a substantially more expensive project – involving rehabilitation of 1,738 sq ft, with only 487 sq ft meeting commercial occupancy code.

Mark Thacker, from Tyler, was retained as a preservation architect to prepare Plans & Specifications.   After extensive review of the building and its limitations, Mr. Thacker prepared Plans and Specifications for rehabilitating the building for residential use, a more viable preservation approach than commercial.

The Texas Historical Commission and the National Trust for Historic Preservation having provided funding approved the change.

At its April 2019 meeting, the LHF Board determined to restore the Old Firehouse to a 1939-1962 POS following the Secretary of Interior Standards would be cost prohibitive even with grants and available tax credits.

For now, the Old Firehouse will remain secured and advertised for sale, on Linden Main Street – Available Propertieshttps://downtowntx.org/linden-texas

DowntownTX.org is an online building inventory for Texas downtowns featuring historic property listings. The software was conceptualized and developed by the Texas Historical Commission’s Town Square Initiative to increase and influence the market exposure of available historic properties across Texas.

What’s next for Linden?  What’s missing in this photo?

A Special Election – Cass County 1899 – An Untold Story

As time passes and memories diminish, the significance of an event may recede into oblivion.  It is the historian who uncovers it.

While researching information about his great-grandfather, J. H. “Jim” Frost, a prominent politician of the Populist Party in Cass County in the 1890s, George Frost, Jr.* found a story “too good to be true”.

George Frost, Jr. as J. H. “Jim” Frost – Linden Heritage Foundation Annual Meeting – Photo courtesy of Jo Anna Duncan

The struggle for political power in Cass County in that decade is demonstrated by the outcome of a general election in November 1894.  A full slate of Populist candidates was nominated for county offices, including State Representative, the position sought by “Jim” Frost.  The Populist slate won the vote. However, the count was required to be certified by the County Commissioners Court made up of Democrats. The Commissioners overturned the votes for the Populist in key precincts, which resulted in a Democratic victory.  (The Stolen Election, Neil Abeles, Texarkana Gazette, January 7, 2015).

The 1894 campaign was fully covered by the local press.  The voice of the Populist movement was the Cass County Sun (purchased in 1889 by J. W. Erwin and renamed The Linden Standard).  It was opposed by the Democratic Citizens Journal in Atlanta.

While conducting research on that election, Mr. Frost found in the Commissioners Court records a significant election, the outcome of which would have reshaped Cass County as we know it today.

On July 1, 1899, the Cass County Commissioners meeting in Linden received petitions requesting elections be called on two issues.

One petition, signed by 1,151 resident freeholders, asked that the county seat be moved from Linden to Atlanta.

The other, signed by over 50 qualified voters, asked for a large portion of western Cass County to be ceded to Morris County.

The proposed strip to be detached to Morris County was 176 square miles.

Map of Cass County, Texas – Shaded area in yellow to cede to Morris County

Both petitions were presented and approved by the Cass County Commissioners.  Cass County Judge W. A. Callaway ordered the vote for both issues to be held on August 9, 1899.

When the votes of the Special Election were tallied, Linden remained the county seat by a slim margin of 44 votes (1,974 for Linden – 1,930 for Atlanta).  The total vote to cede part of Cass County was defeated as well (1,988 against – 1,822 for).

What appeared as separate issues had almost identical voting results.  Every precinct that voted for part of the county to be detached also voted to move the county seat to Atlanta.  Every precinct voting against detachment voted against moving the county seat.

Results of the Special Election of 1899 to cede part of Cass County to Morris County and move the county seat from Linden to Atlanta.

The eastern half of the county, with the exception of Queen City, voted to move the county seat and cede the Cass County acreage to Morris County.

*Credit is given to George Frost, Jr. for this story “The Cass County Special Election of 1899”.  Unfortunately, it appears that no Cass County newspapers were saved for the year of 1899.  The background of the election was found during research of the Commissioner’s minutes and election returns recorded in the Cass County Courthouse.  A retired teacher and coach, Mr. Frost is an active member of the Cass County Genealogical Society where he serves as editor of their quarterly publication.   He was raised in Bryan’s Mill and now lives in Maud, Texas.