They are out there, spread across the county. Framed and hanging on living room walls or sitting on mantels, tucked away lovingly in photo albums or maybe even tossed carelessly in a box shoved in a drawer or under a bed — thousands of little bits of Johnson County’s history, preserved for posterity in photographs.
The problem is, too many of those photos — many of them, perhaps, the only images of their kind — languish unseen save for a very few. But now Mollie Mims, a Cleburne writer and historical researcher, wants to round up those scattered bits of history into a unique record of Johnson County’s past. But she needs help to get it done.
Mims was the main volunteer coordinator in the effort that resulted in the publication of “Johnson County History.” In 2009, Mims put together a photo book called “Images of America: Cleburne,” published by Arcadia Publishing. Now she is working with Arcadia to publish a new book, this one a photographic history of Johnson County,
Mims asks that Johnson County residents who have postcards and photographs from the county’s history allow her to borrow those images to include them in “Images of America: Johnson County,” a book being published later this year in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Johnson County Courthouse.
Mims said all the photos lent to her for the project will be scanned in “while you wait” and immediately returned to their owners. Those who lend photos to the project will also get credit in the book.
“This isn’t a family history. It’s a history of Johnson County,” Mims said, so she isn’t looking for family portrait-type photos. But what she is looking for are family heirloom photos that show places from the county — family homesteads, churches, businesses and so on.
Since the book’s publication will mark the anniversary of the courthouse on the square in downtown Cleburne, Mims’ book will certainly include historic images of that building. But, she said, she hopes to be able to include images of the county’s previous courthouses as well.
The courthouse, she said, opened in 1913, after the building in the same location burned in 1912. While she has photos of those, Mims said, “what I would really like to have is photos of the older courthouses, the wooden ones that came before this one. There are not many photos of those older ones, I’m sure. But maybe someone out there somewhere has one or two.”
Collecting historical pieces
Mims, who volunteers as a historical researcher for Cleburne’s Layland Museum, recalled an instance a few years ago when she got a phone call from a woman living near Houston looking for help in identifying the location of the house in an old postcard she had. The house, she said, had been her great-grandfather’s home but all she knew about it was that it had been located somewhere in Johnson County.
The woman emailed a copy of the postcard to Mims. It showed a large, stately old home, with only one word written on it: Belvedere.
Mims said she sent out notes to many of her contacts in Johnson County, including a copy of the image and asking if anyone had any recollection of this old home. One person — photographer Bob Force — said he thought he had seen the house or a photo of it before. Maybe, he said, it had been out near Godley. But that was about it.
And then Mims started work on this new book and she got a copy of an old postcard from a woman living near Cleburne, showing a beautiful, stately old mansion, the same one Mims had seen before in the other postcard.
“I asked her about it, and she told me about how she had grown up near this house. She said there were actually three houses there at one time, that the other two had burned down and this one had been the last of them, although it was gone, now, too,” Mims said. “I asked her if she knew where it had been, and she said yes, of course. She described the whole thing, where it was and everything. And she told me it had been called Belvedere Ranch.”
She also has another photo, a scan of an original photo of a building interior that while sharp and clear, was too small to allow her to make out any real details. Once it was scanned, though, Mims was able to enlarge it enough to see the elaborate doorway tucked away in the back of the room that lead to a vault. She finally realized, she said, that she was looking at a photo of the old Alvarado Bank.
“This may be the only image of that bank that still exists,” Mims said.
This, Mims said, is the kind of photographic history she hopes to find more of. “I have all the basic photos of the main buildings and places. But I want more of these one of a kind photos, these unique images of businesses and homes and other landmarks.
“There were colleges and private schools all over the county at one time. It was pretty common then. I would love to have photos of some of those schools,” she said. “I have an image of these gentlemen with teams of mules when they were first building the roads in Godley. That’s the kind of thing I am hoping to get.
“Everybody’s got photos like these,” unique little pieces of history, Mims said. “But often they just don’t realize how important these things are. I am hoping this will help them realize what they have, and that they will be willing to share.”
Anyone who has photos of Johnson County’s history and who is willing to share them can bring the original images from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday to the Smith History Center, located by the Layland Museum, 204 N. Caddo St. in Cleburne.
The images will be scanned in at the publisher’s precise specifications and immediately returned to their owners.
Those who have images to share but are unable to be at the History Center during those times can contact Mims at 817-641-6869 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.