Scenes from June 1991: Groundbreaking for prison held 25 years ago


Former Corrigan Mayor Mickey Reily had been gone for well over a year, but his name was mentioned repeatedly on June 20, 1991 at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new state prison.

Approximately 140 people braved the heat on that Thursday to officially mark the beginning of construction of what was to be called – for a few years, anyway – the Charles T. Terrell prison unit on FM 350 South.

Attendees included dignitaries from throughout East Texas and officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). They were welcomed by Polk County Judge John Thompson, whose remarks included a brief recap of how we ended up with a prison.

A little over five years before, Reily, who had served as Corrigan’s mayor for 26 years before his death on Feb. 21, 1990, started the effort to bring a prison to Polk County, Thompson told the crowd. Local officials first pitched to the state a site near the Polk/Trinity County line, but that effort was unsuccessful. Later on, the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, in which Reily was active, and Polk County got together on a joint proposal. The City of Livingston got on board to help with the water and sewer service part of the proposal.

“We had 48 hours to get 1,000 signatures,” Thompson said, referring to the petition that allowed local voters to authorize the issuance of up to $2 million in certificates of obligation to secure the land and utilities that might convince the state to pick Polk County as the site for a new prison. Voters approved the plan, but the state rejected it.

The third time was the charm. On July 10, 1990, Polk County was finally selected as a prison site.

Standing on the prison site nearly a year later, State Rep. Allen Hightower may have best summed up the process. “There are a whole lot of us here who didn’t know if we’d ever get to this point. Probably none of us knew what we were getting into when we started.”

So, when the dignitaries lined up with their shovels 25 years ago, they were, in a way, marking the end of a process, but it was really just the beginning. Prisons are designed to last at least a century, so, as one TDCJ official put it, “We are entering a relationship that will last at least 100 years.”

Also in June of 1991:

* The annual Juneteenth celebration was held on Wednesday, June 19, 1991, at the Blanchard Community Center, the site of the former Blanchard Elementary School near Tigerville Park.
Goat, simmered in gravy over an open fire, and plenty of barbecue were among the traditional dishes served. Will Skinner and Alma Toliver were among those who were photographed helping with the cooking chores. Games and other activities were available for young and old alike.

* Two school districts announced the resignations of trustees. Onalaska ISD said farewell to Trustee Wendon Rogers and Goodrich ISD accepted the resignation of Jerry Wayne Fuller.
Both school boards opted to keep the positions vacant until the next scheduled elections in May.

* Doug Loafman, then 33 years old, was named by Livingston ISD trustees and Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Don Clayton as the Lions’ new head basketball coach.
Doug would be filling the position formerly held by his father, T.J. Loafman, who had retired at the end of the 1990-91 school year.
For T.J., it had to have been one of the best Father’s Day gifts ever.

COL--BW--prisonPRISON GROUNBREAKING – Groundbreaking ceremonies were held June 20, 1991 for a new prison unit in Polk County. From left are John Slocomb, Roger Wiegreffe and Bill Chadwick of the Polk County Chamber of Commerce; Sam Gordon and Ben R. Ogletree of the City of Livingston; Wayne Baker and John Thompson, representing Polk County; State Rep. Allen Hightower; State Sen. Bill Haley; James A. Collins and Wayne Scott of TDCJ; Monte McKinney, representing the general contractor and John Gross, representing the architect.

COL--BW--JuneteenthJUNETEENTH CELEBRATION – Alma Toliver and Will Skinner stir one of the entrees at the 1991 Juneteenth celebration in Blanchard.

COL--BW--readiongREADING CAMP – Students Valencia Green, Patty Patterson and Fleaneshia Steptoe show Livingston ISD Superintendent Jerry Major how word search puzzles can help hone reading skills during a summer reading program in June 1991.