Photo: Lower, left, gives a demonstration at the water well to a village visitor.
(Photo by Alicia Washington)
Time machine----open daily
By Alicia Washington, SFASU student
Millard’s Crossing Historic Village in Nacogdoches is a complex of historical buildings furnished with antiques created to preserve East Texas history. To the thousands of annual visitors who find themselves transported back in time, the village offers a rare and precious glimpse into a different time and way of life.
Susie Lower, executive director of Millard’s Crossing Historic Village, has held that position since the original owner and village creator, Lera Thomas, died in 1993. Although Lower is originally from Montclair, New Jersey, she has lived in Nacogdoches for 47 years—“long enough to know a little something about Texas history,” she said. “And I think Texas history is a whole lot more interesting than New Jersey history which is all about the Revolutionary War. Texas settlement is about survival and living off the land. It built character. You had to be tough and smart and Lera Thomas inherited both of those traits from her ancestors.”
“I worked with Mrs. Lera Thomas for four years before she died,” Lower said. “People ask ‘why did she build an entire village?’ Well, she was a woman of incredible vision who embarked on a mission to save these old country structures because, at that time, no one else was doing it and she wanted to rescue as many as she could before they were destroyed. She was also a businesswoman who early on, saw the value of preservation in terms of heritage tourism which would bring dollars into the economy. And finally, she was an avid antique collector and she needed a place to showcase her collection.”
Thomas’s mentor was Ima Hogg, daughter of a former governor of Texas and a noted antique collector herself. She was also one of the first prominent citizens to embark on preservation projects in Texas--a state which according to Lower was late to recognize the importance of saving its history. Thomas began Millard’s Crossing in the late 1960s, and it has been in operation since 1970 although it was not “all there” i.e. completed, until 1985.
Millard’s Crossing Historic Village is now run primarily by Lower, who creates and directs programs and activities, and along with her assistant, Roz Couch, leads tours of the property. There are several tour options. In a guided tour, which takes about two hours, the guide accompanies visitors through buildings and activities, including two houses not available otherwise.
“A guide has to be present in these houses, because they are full of valuable antiques so, unfortunately, we just can’t let people go through them on their own,” Lower said. “However, those who opt for a walking tour still have access to seven of the structures. They are also given an introduction to the village and provided with a walking tour packet which has a map and information on all the houses within the complex as well as instructions for the hands-on activities.”
Millard’s Crossing tours are unlike a lot of other museum establishments in that the staff enjoys helping visitors interact with objects during the tours.
“We’re very proud of our program,” Lower said. “It’s very personal; we encourage people to participate, so they can get a feel for what it was like to live in East Texas 100 years ago, and I think that’s very unique.
“These activities are what make Millard’s Crossing particularly interesting and fun,” Lower said. “Both young and old enjoy participating. They include push-plowing ‘mama’s vegetable garden,’ shelling corn, doing ‘mama’s laundry’ after drawing the water from a well and learning to write with a quill pen in the log school house.”
Visitation can be informal, as most people “just drop in.” But if there are more than 10 people, visitors should call ahead and schedule a tour. The Village specializes in large group and school tours, which have a slightly different format and have won many awards for being entertaining, interactive and highly educational regarding early East Texas settlement history.
In addition to tours, Millard’s Crossing hosts events and offers some of its historic structures as rental facilities for private parties, such as weddings, family reunions and meetings. The Gazebo, Victorian Reception House, Chapel and Methodist Parsonage are available to rent and prices vary. The village provides a range of unique options for seminars, workshops, business meetings, picnics, fashion shows and more.
The village attracts many out-of-state and international visitors. “I think probably because it’s a ‘village’ which means we cover a broad span of Texas history--a sort of one-stop-shop so to speak,” she said.
Jeanne Dubose and her daughter Miranda Dubose from Baytown enjoyed visiting the village. In 2012, they decided to use it as a wedding site for Miranda, and they recommend the village to their friends and acquaintances.
“I like Texas history so I love being down here, and I think it’s a really cool,” said Jeanne.
Unlike some of the other historic sites in Nacogdoches, Millard’s Crossing is totally self-supporting and receives no public funding. Most income is derived from receipts and rentals but a very vital source of income comes from donations to “Friends of Millard’s Crossing.” Additionally there is a “Friends for Five” program, initiated by Ron Collins, Board Treasurer, which encourages people who sign up to pledge to support the village for five years in a row.
“Friends for Five has really helped us. It is wonderful to know we can count on long term support; but of course we need more people to commit to that form of giving,” Lower said.
More information about Millard’s crossing, including pricing for tours and facility rentals, can be found on the village website, www.millardscrossing.org, or call 936-564-6631.