Take a step back in time at Pioneer Day celebration

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By Rachel Madison

Cross Tracks Church will look a lot different on Nov. 14 when the entire campus is transported back to the late 1800s for a Pioneer Day celebration to commemorate one of Williamson County’s oldest chapels.

Pam Turner, Cross Tracks Church member and coordinator for the event, said the United Methodist community has been trying to celebrate their chapel turning 150 years old since early 2020, but it has been postponed twice due to the pandemic. Finally—now that the chapel is 151 years old—the celebration is happening this month.

Pastor Michele Lott said the event has grown to be much larger than originally planned, which is one of the few times she has been grateful for COVID, because it’s allowed for the celebration to take on a life of its own and offer a lot to the community of Liberty Hill.

“We are doing this Pioneer Day in conjunction with the Williamson Museum,” Turner said. “They will be with us in every aspect of the day. They will be bringing a pioneer encampment area with a couple of characters that will share stories, like a medicine man. They will also have guns and artifacts from the late 1800s.”

Texas storyteller Donna Ingham—who Turner said has been named the best liar in Texas seven times—will be telling her tales from inside the chapel. The east wing of the chapel will be transformed into a schoolhouse from the late 1800s.

“The chapel served as the original schoolhouse in Liberty Hill,” Turner said. “We will have a teacher there telling the rules from the 1870s, and children will write on slates and use quills as well.”

In the west wing of the chapel, local historian Gary Spivey, who is also the longest living member of Cross Tracks Church, will be telling stories of Liberty Hill’s history. An 1870s chuckwagon is also coming from Walburg with a cowboy who will be sharing everything from his chuckwagon with attendees.

“We also have a lace maker, a spinner and a hand quilter coming,” Turner said. “The quilter will be bringing several antique quilts to show.”

The Liberty Hill Public Library will also be at the event, overseeing a couple of family-friendly crafts for attendees to make.

“Part of our church’s history includes one of our founding members churning butter for her pledge to a missionary group, so because of that, we will have a butter churner here,” Turner said. “We will serve the butter with corn muffins for people to try.”

Lott will be riding into the event on horseback as the event’s circuit rider, which in the 1800s, were clergy assigned to travel around to specific areas to minister to settlers and organize congregations. The event will also feature an old-fashioned cake walk, a country store with everything from pioneer bonnets to wooden toy guns and slingshots, as well as three historic trunks on display.

“There will be a toy trunk, a cowboy and history trunk, and a railroad trunk all coming from the Williamson Museum for people to see,” Turner said. “They are all from the late 1800s.”

Another activity available to attendees will be making a tin punch Christmas ornament as an homage to the chapel’s original design.

“The chapel’s original ceiling is made of tin, but you can’t see it because there’s a drop-down ceiling in there right now,” Turner said. “As part of the restoration, we are taking that drop-down ceiling down so we can see the original ceiling, which is absolutely beautiful.”

A food truck, Pizza PieRos, and Texas Pecan Cakes will also be on site serving food. In addition, a silent auction with donations from church members and the community will be taking place to raise money for the chapel’s restoration project.

Cross Tracks Church was founded in 1854 in Liberty Hill, and its chapel was built in 1870—which Turner said is in the running with the Stubblefield building in downtown Liberty Hill for the oldest building in the city. Church members have been working on restoring the chapel since early 2020.

Since then, they have successfully taken four layers of old roof off the chapel and put on a new tin roof.

“The chapel had four full roofs on it, because they’d just add on to it every time it needed to repaired,” Lott said. “Not only was the weight of four roofs bad for a 150-year-old building, but the structure was kind of a nightmare, so we had that totally removed.”

Besides the roof, the exterior of the chapel has been painted, landscaping is being redone, and the stained-glass windows have all been restored. Turner added that anything that has been done to the exterior of the building has had to go through the Texas Historical Commission.

“To restore the stained glass, we took off [the plexiglass] and put tempered glass with proper venting on all the stained-glass windows,” Turner said.

Lott added that the plexiglass covers had colored with age and didn’t provide much protection to the stained glass, making the windows’ colors look very muted.

“Now the windows are stunning, and you can see their beauty,” she said.

The front doors of the church have also been restored, and the interior doors are next on the list. Turner said the interior of the chapel has not had much work done to it yet, because they are working on writing grants to help assist in the cost of interior renovations.

“The biggest thing we want to do is take the dropped ceiling down,” she said. “We want to work from the top down. We will be refinishing the pews, which are from the early 1900s, and the flooring needs work. We will be doing everything in stages.”

Lott added that there is plenty of work to be done considering the building was built before electricity existed.

“Churches have been notorious over the years that as they grow, they just keep adding and adding,” she said. “This chapel has these beautiful bones, and as the church grew, they tried their best to match those bones, but in some of the transitions the building lost some of its integrity and beauty. Now we are working on bringing that back.”

Turner said there is no set timeline for the restoration to be completed, but her hope is that everything will be done three years from now.

“We wish it was done now because it’s so beautiful,” Lott added. “We want to be able to open it up to people to enjoy in the future. Right now, it’s okay, but it will be stunning when it’s finished.”

Pioneer Day will take place at Cross Tracks Church, 101 Church St., on Nov. 14 from 12 Noon to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and pioneer costumes are encouraged. For more information, visit Cross Tracks Church on Facebook.

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