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
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...." Read
entrance gate to Southwestern Adventist University
TE photo, February 2005
TE photo, February 2005
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.
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
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
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
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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