Downtown walking tours of Nacogdoches boast a unique new component this year.
The Daily Sentinel reports one of the stops on the tour, the Milam Masonic Lodge No. 2, recently completed a second-floor museum displaying artifacts such as the sword of Henry C. Hancock, killed at the Battle of Mansfield.
"His widow gave the sword to the lodge for safekeeping," said lodge Treasurer Dwayne Prestwood.
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The oldest masonic lodge in Texas to meet in the same town, the Milam Lodge's members included three signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Thomas J. Rusk among them.
Chartered in 1838, the local masonic lodge met in various locations, including the original Old Stone Fort and the Old University Building, before constructing its present location in 1931, the only permanent home it has ever known.
Prestwood initiated the project by repurposing a storage room.
"To call it a storage room was a stretch," says Prestwood. "We've got a lot of talent in this lodge as far as electricians and people who are good building."
Among items arranged in glass display cases are an early 1900s Masonic ballot box, a 48-star flag, gavels used by officers throughout its history and a 1930s uniform. The sheer amount of various artifacts from different time periods led the masons to reach out to Leonard Turner, a fellow mason from the Lufkin, Swift and Garrison lodges who had experience in curating, the key to which is discovering what something is, and its relevance.
"Sometimes it's obvious," he said on identifying artifacts. "Sometimes it's not so obvious what something is, how it was used and how it relates to the context of the museum."
The most challenging part of displaying objects is identifying them for the audience.
"A lot of that is trying to get relevant information without something you have to stand there for 10 minutes to read," he said.
Carefully handwritten minutes of meetings dating all the way back to 1837 are currently being digitized. They are not viewable by the public; however, one passage has been copied from the books and displayed in the museum:
"The handwriting of many men who have nearly all passed and gone, but few of the Old Members remain at this date Dec. 6, 1868.
"In 100 years from today who will read this Book, be he who he may, it certainly will interest him."
Walking tours of downtown Nacogdoches begin at the Visitor's Center, 200 E. Main St., and highlight 15 local landmarks. More information is available at visitnacogdoches.org.