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KEENE, TEXAS

Johnson County, North Central Texas

Highway 67, and FM 2280
SW of Dallas
S of Fort Worth
5 miles NE of Cleburne
Population: 6,227 (2010) 5,003 (2000)

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Keene TX - SW Adventist University petrified wood entrance

Petrified wood entrance gate to Southwestern Adventist University
TE photo, February 2005

Right Here by Dwight Young

"My stepfather's parents lived in a tiny East Texas town called Keene, and I always looked forward to visiting them. Their house had screened porches front and back, with a big table where we ate in warm weather and a glider on which my sister and I swung faster and faster until some grownup yelled at us to stop. Best of all, I got to sleep in the attic, beside a window that looked out over my grandmother's iris beds and the fields that rolled off beyond the fence.

To a kid from the treeless, pancake-flat plains of West Texas, the countryside around Keene seemed foreign and exotic, so lush as to be practically Edenic. There were woods to wander in and little streams to throw rocks into. And there were hills to climb minimalist hills that probably wouldn't even register on a topographical map, but they kept the horizon from being ankle-high and ruler-straight as it was back home.

Because it played an important role in my life for a good many years, I decided to pay a visit to Keene when I was in Texas recently. I hadn't been there in years, so I expected to find things changed. But when I pulled off the highway into the town, things got weird.

Keene was gone. More precisely, the Keene I remembered had been replaced with something I didn't recognize...." more
Keene, TX - university tower

University tower
TE photo, February 2005

Keene TX - SW Adventist University  Class 1937

Southwestern Adventist University - Class of 1937
TE photo, February 2005
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Keene, Texas water tower

Keene, Texas water tower
Photos courtesy Jim and Lou Kinsey
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Keene, Texas Chronicles:

Bricking Bad Cartoon by Roger T. Moore
In 1972 Don Halsell of Keene bit the corner off an imported brick in the Texas Senate Chambers to show its poor quality.



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Keene, Texas Forum

  • Subject: Keene, Texas
    I just found two articles on your website, about my old hometown, Keene, Texas. I sympathize with Dwight Young - returning to one's hometown and encountering change, can be at once bewildering and sad. Keene is still a special place, and in some respects, has not lost it's small-town atmosphere. Someone has had the foresight to preserve a few of the town's historic landmarks - the petrified wood "Mizpah Gate", which is the historic entrance to the college, and a few historic buildings are still there. Sadly, the old "North Hall" ( the music building in my day ) has given way to the new library on the college campus. But, just across the street, is one of Keene's original homes, from about 1890 or so. It was originally a log cabin, but has since been renovated and re-sided many times. When I last visited, in March of 2005, the old wrought-iron hitching post, dating back over a hundred years, was still imbedded in the front yard.

    As a child, I was lucky enough to know some of the early pioneers, including a Mr. Wallen, who had been the first baby born in the new town of Keene, in the early 1890's. I also have childhood memories of Keene teachers, businessmen, and civic leaders, such as Ben Putnam, W.O. Belz, Mr. Woodall, Joe Winn, Lloyd Winn, Doc Hausinger, Ross Rice, W. A Schram, Clarance Dortch, Smokey Thompson, Capt. Blackburn, Dixie Greenhill, Cliff Blair, Vance Reed, Paul Wilson, M.D. Lewis, Charlie Bessier, Harvey Roberts, and many others. Most of these names will be familiar to anyone who lived in Keene during the 1940's, 1950's, or 1960's.

    Keene was always a town that seemed to have lots of pioneer spirit. In the early 1930's, the town needed an electric power generating plant, so three students successfully built one. The town needed a fire-truck, and again, one was built. Someone thought that the town needed telephone service, so a local resident and his son strung wire for 5 miles on fence posts and home-made telephone poles, to connect to the nearest Southwestern Bell trunk lines. An early Keene resident, "Slats" Rogers, decided to build an airplane, and did so successfully, right in Keene. It just happened to be the first airplane ever built in the state of Texas (a detailed half-scale replica now resides in the local museum.)

    At one time, there were dozens of broom-making shops in Keene, a fabric mill, a print-shop, a brick kiln, a commercial bakery, a planing mill, a commercial laundry, and many other small industries. These provided much-needed work for boarding students at the school (now called Southwestern Adventist University.)

    I treasure my visits to Keene. It makes me sad, to see so many historic landmarks now missing. But, I really enjoy visiting old friends, seeing the schools I attended, and walking in the shade of the grand old oaks that I played under as a child. The college is still the heart and soul of the town, and as long as it continues to thrive, the history and spirit of Keene will continue to be nurtured and preserved.

    In closing, I'd like encourage Dwight Young to visit Keene again sometime, and take time to see the local museum. The history of the college, and of the town, has been preserved in many interesting displays. And yes, someone will surely be able to point out where his Grandparents house was. In fact, I think I remember it.
    - Steve Hubbard, Yakima, Washington, February 17, 2006
  • Subject: Keene, Texas
    I just wanted to comment on the remarks by Dwight Young about the little town of Keene, Texas.

    I grew up in that town, and though less time passed before I returned for visits, I can certainly understand Dwight's dismay at seeing that the "old Keene" was gone.

    The town of Keene is a living thing, and all things living change and grow to accommodate their own particular needs. We look at Keene as a place frozen in time, but the reality is that while the memories belong in our domain, the town does not. I still see the ghosts of old houses on the lots where they once stood. The tiny house where I was conceived, the house where we lived when I learned to ride a bike, the big two story place that I last called home before I married and moved to Houston, all are gone now. I find myself wishing I could have bought them all, and preserved them forever.

    But parts of Keene are still there for me. My grandmother's house is still there, the walls covered with the flagstones she mortared into place so long ago. I can visit my Aunt Rachel, and drive across town to the Hillsboro addition to see my Uncle Wesley. Their houses are comfortingly familiar, though they seem a little smaller now.

    I guess that's because I'm a little bigger now.

    All things grow and change to accommodate life and living. But love and family ties still bind our hearts, and call us through the time and miles to "home".

    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.
    - Sincerely, Cathy T. Martin, Conroe, Texas, June 30, 2005

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