Oh, if just one more time I could relive this special time in the early years my childhood! Memories like running through papa’s field of corn, mama’s table with fried chicken and homemade biscuits, the persimmon tree across the red dirt road from their farm, gathering eggs with mama, dinner on the ground at the church and Blue Bell Ice Cream will never taste as good as the lemon ice cream from Jennie and Gordon Munson’s Country Store in Ace.
Ace is on Farm Road 2610 off Highway 146 South, about 15 miles south of Livingston in south central Polk County on the edge of the Big Thicket.
My generation will be the last to have these Norman Rockwell kind of memories: drawing water from a dug water well, going to the outhouse, bathing in a #3 wash tub on the porch, all the smells that come with sleeping with the windows open, walking through the chicken yard barefooted and smelling the mayhaw juice boiling on the stove! Now let’s get to the facts of the history of Ace as well as the stories the natives of Ace hold dear to their hearts.
One of the area’s first settlers was S.C. Hiroms of Kentucky, who arrived in 1830 and built his home on high ground above the Trinity River. Hiroms and A.B. Carr of Memphis, Tennessee, are credited with establishing the town of Smithfield. (Having been established prior to 1835, this settlement is the oldest in Polk County).
In 1840, S.C. Hiroms was appointed postmaster of Smithfield. A stagecoach stop on the Liberty-Nacogdoches Road and a Trinity River port was the town “Smith’s Field” (named after an earlier settler, Robert Smith, and later called Smithfield). It was a trading site for Coushatta Indians, trappers and settlers in this part of what became Polk County.
A.B. Carr’s son, John Fendell Carr, came to Smithfield in 1939 and established a cotton gin, gristmill and several sawmills. He also built steamboats, including the “John F. Carr,” which saw service in the Battle of Galveston during the Civil War. Smithfield served during the war as a staging area for Confederate troops.
By 187l, the post office in Smithfield was discontinued. With the coming of the Houston, East and West Texas Railway to Polk County in 1881, riverboat and stagecoach transportation declined. The population of Smithfield shifted to the north, where a new post office with the town name of Ace opened in 1915 with Asa C. Emanuel as the postmaster.
On Aug. 30, 1878, a petition was gathered by three people to establish a school in Smithfield. Judge J.O. Stevens signed the document appointing John F. Carr, W.H. Beasley and Henry Williams as trustees. By 1935, the Smithfield schools had a total of seven grades, 108 students and three teachers. All high school students attended Livingston High School. School was held for two and a half months, and teachers were paid a salary of $30 per month. This enabled the students to help on the family farm. Gradually, school was increased to four months starting in October. Salaries were then raised to $35 per month.
On Sept. 5, 1933, a contract was awarded to Garland Miller (my grandfather on my father’s side) for $100 per month to transport students in grades nine, 10 and 11 to the high school in Livingston. At one time, the school was located on the property south of Lemuel Williford’s pigpen and cornfield (my grandfather on my mother’s side).
The population, estimated to be 25 in 1969, grew to 40 by the early 1970s and remained at that level through the year 2000. Although little physical evidence exists to identify Smithfield, its history is an important part of Polk County’s heritage.
As of today, Ace has only a post office. The population of Ace today is roughly calculated at 450 permanent residents. On weekends, there are sometimes over 1,000 people in Ace. The four subdivisions located in Ace are weekend havens for people coming out of Houston to the serenity of country living. Many have retirement homes there and weekend retreats in the Ace area.
I spoke with Henry Gurley, who lives in Houston. I got his phone number from Betty Peebles, who was his teacher in junior high school. They have remained friends for years. Henry wrote the foreword for Arley Walter’s book “East Texas Memories.” In the dedication of the book, Arley wrote, “The young generations of our family need to know some of the joy as well as the hardship of growing up during the Depression in the Big Thicket of East Texas.” I went to my mailbox Saturday and found a package from Henry containing a list of the poetry and books that he has written, as well as the history of his family.
“History of Polk County” is a book written in 1968 by the Polk County Historical Survey Committee in Polk County as a historical survey of Polk County. Two ladies are listed as members of that committee: Ethel McCardell, retired teacher and owner of the 705 North Beatty home (I purchased that home from her estate in 1997) and Mrs. Edna Miller; my uncle Taft Miller’s wife. (Taft is a brother to Garland Miller, my grandfather, mentioned earlier in the article as the bus driver at Ace). Again, we owe much gratitude to our citizens of Polk County for the efforts they have made to pass down history and enable us to relive their stories.
In the small Ace community, there was only one phone and the one phone was at the house of Papa Williford (Lemuel Williford, my grandfather). When farm accidents or other emergencies happened, a community member would come to papa for him to make the emergency phone call.
This was the case when Mr. Lott (I have no first name for him) had the handle of his wooden plow plunged into his belly while plowing behind a plow horse named “Old Sam” on the Heron Walters farm. The plow had hit a stump and the horse lunged forward, forcing the plow into Mr. Lott’s belly. Mr. Lott passed away that night, but I remember him, as many do, as a simple, hard working man and this could be said about all the people in Ace. If you wanted your family to eat, you had to work and work hard.
Chapter 13 of “East Texas Memories,” begins by saying, “During the summer, while school was out, there was a time when things got kinda’ boring and a concerted effort were made by the teenagers to relieve that situation. This effort was called, ‘The Watermelon Caper.’ The teenagers involved in this event were George Gurley, Joe Tullos and Freddie Miller. They knew Mr. Williford (known as Mr. Lem) to be a fair, fun-loving fellow and would be the perfect one to help them with their scam. Mr. Williford agreed to hide near the melon patch with his shotgun ready to fire when we got the “girls in the right place.”
Arley Walter writes, “While Mr. Lem was waiting for church to be over, he decided to take the shot pellets out of the shells to negate any possibility of an accident. Suddenly Mr. Williford threw a spotlight on the ‘young thieves’ and pulled the trigger of his double-barrel gun, at the same time shouting something like, ‘Get out of my watermelon patch!’ Those girls hit the wire fence like a herd of buffalo, making the wire squeal as they climbed through and over into the briar patches.” There are more details about the aftermath of this scam, but this gives you an idea of the community people and the way they invented their fun.
In an earlier article, I wrote about the LaFollette family mystery. This article reported that the LaFollette family loaded a wagon and left Ace in a hurry. Hershel Mackey, a long time resident of Ace, shares this with me: “Old man LaFollette had cut his throat in that house but was not successful in killing himself, so he climbed to the top of Red-Man Bluff on the Trinity River, and jumped off, accomplishing his final attempt.”
I learned in talking to Henry Gurley that Mrs. Lelia Missouri Jones LaFollette was a sister to Mrs. Pearl Wiggins, mother to Edna Pearl Miller. In a homemade book by Paul DuCoin, called “Just Folks,” I read about Edna Pearl Miller. Edna Pearl was the great-granddaughter of John F. Carr. In 1841, Carr married Arabella Williams of Holly Grove.
After he married, Carr inherited a fortune. He became a planter and had a cotton gin, three sawmills, a trading post and a landing area on the Trinity River. Carr also had a stagecoach stop near the trading post, which was a two-story log house. One of Carr’s riverboats, the John F. Carr, was used in the battle of Galveston during the Civil War
Edna Pearl, (born in Smithfield, July 2, 1908) wrote: “My mother, Pearl Wiggins, said that Grandmother Carrie Carr Jones kept a pet bear chained in the yard. My grandfather, R.B. Jones, was a gentleman farmer. He wore a white shirt and tie even during the weekdays. I can still remember my grandpa out in the field, plowing in that white shirt and string tie. Pearl was married to Lon Tullos. When he died, she later remarried and became Pearl Wiggins.
Another story of Edna Pearl Miller was, “I had a pet goat and kept it inside the yard. One time the goat came inside the house and ate the family Bible. I guess after that I had a holy goat!” Edna Pearl writes, “I met Taft when I was two months old (her words recorded in the book Just Folks). Taff said he loved me all his life and we married in 1937.”
My last “great helpers” for history and contents of this article were Jean and John Taylor of Ace. Jean is the granddaughter of Jennie and Gordon Munson. As Jean and I discuss the painting of the Munson Store I asked her, “Who painted the Munson Store picture?” Jean said, “Well, Mary Caldwell of Liberty painted that for momma (Jennie) and I wanted one, so Mary painted one for me.” Jean’s family has been postmasters at the store for four generations including Gordon Munson, 1928-1944; Jennie Munson, 1944- 1973; Roy Munson, 1974-1985; and then Jean Munson Taylor 1986-1989.
Pastor and Coach John Amon Taylor has pastored for the past 15 years and is the current pastor of the Ace Baptist Church, located on an acre of land next to the old school land. John began teaching in 1971 and coached at the Livingston Junior High School since 1971. John says, “I want to teach for 50 years, I don’t think anyone has done that!” John has an enormous collection of Indian arrowheads, pottery and other artifacts from their land on FM 2610. He has literally “dragged his grandson Jacob” behind him for 14 years, exploring for artifacts. Jacob has recently told his granddad, “I think it’s time to start looking for arrowheads again!” I’m pleased to hear that, because Jean and John have been faithful to keep and carry on with the stories and history of their family as well as the Ace community.
On Sunday Sept. 7, 2014, I wrote about the Ace community. After checking the article to see if I had told this story, I had not!
Charles Tribe’s family lived next to the Assembly of God Church across the road from my Uncle R.E. Miller (Vernon Miller’s daddy). Charles is an active member of the “Ace Kids” and a Texas A&M graduate. The Ace Kids meet at the community center at Taylor Lakes Estates. Vernon Miller lives in Baytown and is a retired police officer.
Vernon is my cousin and the author of two books, “East of the San Jacinto River” (2001) and “Highlands-Lynchburg Area History” (1996).
I hope these two mischievous Ace boys read this article! They marked my life! I remember this clearly.
Charles’s sister Carolyn was celebrating her birthday party on the porch of the preacher’s home, next door to the Tribe home. Charles and Vernon appeared with a snake and dropped it down the back of my dress. My dress was tied at the waist so the snake flopped around until the preacher pulled the sash on the bow at the back of my dress and the snake fell on through! The preacher, bless his heart, took his broom and whipped those boys!
I mentioned that we were the last generation to experience the “outhouse.” Vernon seemed to find trouble or more likely trouble found him! As I was sitting on the “two holer” outhouse, Vernon appeared at the back and began to throw corncobs up under the back of the open space. Papa Lemuel caught him and thrashed him with a “switch and sent him home!” Papa never used any words, but I think that boy got the message.
There are more “Vernon stories” but the picture I’m including shows me and Vernon, (we were about five years old and both with September birthdays) and my baby brother, Larry Miller. The building and fence behind us is the smokehouse and papa’s shop, where he sharpened his tools and oiled and cleaned them before he put them away, and where he repaired his shoes. Many of you have had meat from a “smokehouse.” The last little room on the right was where mama raised her “bitties” (new baby chickens).