Tomball is Alive and Active While Preserving and Respecting its Past.
I expect everyone with an interest in history shares a passionate wish to be transported back in time to be able to see what it really looked like. Just a ten second peek would be amazing. When you find yourself in a historical place, the past can seem so tantalizingly close. You can see the place and the things, but the people who interacted with them are so frustratingly far out of reach. The appeal of museums and historical places depend on their ability to bring us as close to those people as possible.
Without any preconceived ideas of what we would find, and without any great expectations, we arrived at the Tomball Museum Center to do some exploring. The museum is located at the end of a quiet residential street off West Main Street and consists of twelve different structures that have been transported from their original locations in nearby areas. There are several homes, a church, a doctor’s office, a one-room school house, a barn, and more. The structures are representative of life in the second half of the 19th century and are furnished with appropriate period pieces and a number of items that are original to the buildings.
We rang the doorbell when we arrived, which seems to be common practice at smaller historical museums. After a few minutes, the door opened and we were warmly greeted by a docent who told us a little about the museum. When we expressed an interest in seeing inside the buildings, she promptly offered to show us around. The price for a full tour is $4.00/person, which is very, very little considering how much we were able to learn and see. Photography inside any of the buildings is not permitted, which is why the photos here are all of the exteriors.
Our tour began in the Griffin House, which was built by Eugene Pilot in 1860. Upon entering, it was clear that the house once belonged to a prosperous family, but that wasn’t actually what impressed me most. As we walked around the rooms of this house, I got such a strong sense of a home filled with life. It was not a cold and static place and it was skillfully brought to life for us by the docent, who had a way of placing the occupants back in the house. With a deep understanding of life in Tomball, of the objects in the home, and an engaging way of relating her stories with a touch of humor, we must have spent close to two hours discovering the history of the buildings.
We learned so much about not just Tomball’s past but also about how the past is still present in Tomball today through the children and grandchildren of the people who shaped this little town. It made me realize that I’ve never experienced that type of connection to a place. I don’t think I’m unique in that. This is after all a society in which a substantial percentage of the population is on the move every few years. It’s possible to love the place you call home without knowing much about its history, but if you really want a deeper connection to it, it seems to me to require conscious effort to learn about its history. My goal in starting this blog was to gain a better understanding of the landscapes, the people, and the history of Texas and to share that with others. I really didn’t understand then what I’m beginning to see now, which is that up until starting the blog my interest had been somewhat superficial. I think the stories of this state will reveal themselves to me slowly and it will probably be difficult ever to find a genuine sense of belonging but I can certainly grow my sense of appreciation.
An absolutely necessary stop during the tour of the museum is Fellowship Hall. In this building you’ll find a large collection of photographs depicting life in Tomball in 1945. These amazing images were captured by Esther Bubley and are brimming with action and engagement. If you have that deep wish to be transported to the past, these photos can just about get you there.
As we left the museum it began to drizzle and we decided to delay our lunch to see the Railroad Depot museum, which lies just south of the intersection of Main Street and the railroad track. Having just discovered what a gift a good docent can be, we sought out conversation with one of the railroad docents. It turned out to be a very informative conversation as we learned about some of the train trips that he had himself taken here in the US.
Although there isn’t nearly as much to see at the railroad museum, it’s free, has a number of railroad artifacts, and is definitely worth a stop. After all, there is just something about the feel of an old train station. Also, the model railroad would definitely be fun for kids.
After our two museum visits, lunch was next on the itinerary. Tejas Chocolate Craftory produces chocolates, as the name would imply, but they also prepare the most amazing barbecue. You’ll find the restaurant in an old house across the street from the railroad track, north of Main Street. It seems wise to arrive soon after they open if you want to be sure every menu item is available. They seem to make an effort at not wasting food and were running out of items when we arrived. Vegetables were not available so I ordered a brisket sandwich while the others ordered brisket and sausage. I’m not a big meat eater, but I have to admit that the barbecue here was so good that none of us had a problem just having meat. Absolutely amazing flavor!
Before leaving Tomball, we felt we should have a look at the stores along Main Street. I had expected nothing but antiques, which seems to be standard fare in smaller towns, but Tomball had much more than that. We didn’t walk far but every store we saw seemed to have something of interest. With the rain, we weren’t interested in exploring further, but Tomball definitely hasn’t been checked off the list with a “been there, done that”. It has a downtown that is very much alive and that we can return to many times over.