As Deer Park celebrates its 125th birthday in 2017, the Historical Committee looks back on the city's beginnings and preserve its memories for future generations. In this column, Committee chair Sherry Garrison discusses a series of letters that shaped Deer Park.
We are going to take a trip back in time and see how three different types of letters affected Deer Park history. We will begin with the oldest letters that were written in the 1850s and the early 1860s.
The eight letters in this collection were written by Simeon Henry West, Deer Park founder, during his early mining days in California. Simeon was a young man at the time, in his late twenties and early thirties, writing personal letters to family members back home in Illinois.
Discovering these letters was an adventure, but actually reading them was an introspective look at the man that founded our town.
The letters were discovered at Berkeley University in California while searching online. The next step involved obtaining permission for digital copies of the letters and then planning how to display these letters in our museum cabinets.
Rebecca Pool, Director of the Deer Park Library, was instrumental in gaining access to the letters at Berkeley.
Reading personal letters is like looking through a window and seeing what is in someone's mind and heart. Even at an early age, Simeon was beginning to form and express definite ideas about politics and how it affected our country.
These early adventures in California exposed him to loneliness, illness, individuals with different opinions and backgrounds, the development of a passion for nature, kindness, and comradery. All of these experiences had a long-lasting effect on the adventurous man that founded our city.
The next group consists of 28 letters that spanned a time period from August 1955 to May 1959. These letters focused on Deer Park obtaining door-to-door mail delivery. Jimmy Walker was Mayor of Deer Park and Mazia Sneed was the Postmistress.
The letters from Mayor Walker provided information as to why Deer Park should be eligible for this kind of service. These letters were also very political in nature as the elected officials in Washington, DC were reminded of the support from citizens in Deer Park. That “good ole boy” network was alive and well, and it certainly didn’t hurt us in securing our mail service.
The elected Texas officials that corresponded with Mayor Walker were U.S. Representative Albert Thomas, U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, U.S. Representative Bob Casey, U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as post office officials.
Jimmy Walker was persistent and diligent in making door-to-door mail delivery possible in Deer Park. Due to limited space, we only have a few of these letters on display in our museum cabinets.
The last letter in the group was written in January 1962. It was a resignation from the city attorney, Lanis Thompson. In his letter, Mr. Thompson stated very eloquently that he could no longer cooperate with dishonest and deceptive tactics. As a result, he resigned.
This letter has been in my possession for two years and I have struggled with the content. Looking through old minutes, this letter was accepted by city council on January 18, 1962, but council refused to enter it into the official minutes.
This time was recognized as a very low point in Deer Park politics as council was bitterly split about many decisions. This was the struggle of a young municipality.
Perhaps, there is a lesson as we look back - learn from our mistakes, move forward, and make wise decisions for the future.