I feel that I was one of the fortunate ones to have grown up in a small town in East Texas during the 1940s and 1950s. I was fortunate as well because my father was not a farmer or rancher during that era which would have required that I spend a lot of time working the fields, wrangling cattle, or harvesting timber. As a result, I usually had some free time on my hands after school, on Saturday, and even Sunday afternoon.
The free time usually would result in a search for something to do to occupy my mind and abilities. Living in San Augustine, Texas, with a population of less than 3,000, there was not much for a young teenager to do. This was pre-television and pre-computers days, so I had to find my own entertainment. I did learn to drive early, and got my drivers license at age 14, so this enabled me to drive to places of enjoyment.
One of those places of enjoyment was the fellowship hall of the Memorial Presbyterian Church. Unlike today, the church buildings were left unlocked, a silent invitation for worshippers to enter and pray, or visit with the pastor.
The fellowship hall contained a ping pong table, the only one in town. So, anytime the urge struck, I would call several friends and we would meet there and have a self made ping pong tournament.
It was there that I learned to handle a ping pong ball and paddle like a pro. Along with friends Ben, Mike, Gayle, Bobby, Harold, and others near our same age, we crowned ourselves the ping pong champions of San Augustine. Occasionally, some Methodist and Baptist kids would show up to play, but they were no match for the Presbyterian crew.
At our age we did not appreciate history. We never gave a thought to the fact that we were playing in the fellowship hall of the oldest Presbyterian Church in the state of Texas. Records show that this church was organized on June 02, 1838, under the name Bethel Presbyterian Church. They met in a country school house, Goodlaw School, about four miles west of San Augustine. The church minutes indicate that twenty-two people organized this church, and sometime later called their first pastor, Rev. Hugh Wilson.
Around 1888 the present church building was erected at a new location in downtown San Augustine on East Livingston Street. The fellowship hall was completed in 1950, directly behind the church building.
My close buddy, Mike, had bought a Cushman scooter around the time our ping pong playing. He would ride about a mile from his home to the church on his scooter to play with us. One fateful day as Mike was leaving on his Cushman, he ran over an embedded stop sign at the end of the street. He lost control and crash landed in the middle of the intersection.
Other than a few cuts and bruises, Mike was not badly injured. However, his Cushman suffered severe injuries. I don’t recall seeing him ever riding it again. Mike had forgotten that the city had recently installed new metal stop signs, about eight inches high, at each street intersection. Only one of these embedded stop signs remain in the city today, having been replaced with the more modern signal lights and octagon shaped stop signs. This remaining old sign, located at the intersection of E. Main and Montgomery streets, is just a reminder of how things were in a small town over fifty years ago. Mike certainly remembers.
In April of 2015, the city resurfaced that portion of Montgomery Street that intersects East Main Street. The last of the embedded stop signs was removed at that time, being replaced with a regular metal stop sign. I hope that the old one will be preserved as a part of the history of our small city.
Today you can see this old stop sign, refurbished, and housed in the new 1919 Jail Museum in the old restored jail on the courthouse square. I urge you to stop by and say “hello” to this relic of the past.
“THE STOP SIGN”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, Texas 75972