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Marples: Your reputation precedes you at Jim's Bayou

Anyone who has studied notable Texans of the past is aware that early Texans traveled. In the early years, it was often done on foot or horseback. Thank heavens Longview and environs now are blessed with good, modern transportation.

I think of the rugged individuals such as Sam Houston, David Crockett, Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie and others whose travels brought them from other states to pass near Longview. I recently learned of another one.

I knew the town of Clarksville — founded in 1833, well before Texas was even a Republic — was named after explorer James Clark. I didn’t realize Clark’s settlements were so widespread. His exploits in East Texas give new meaning to the phrase, “Your reputation precedes you.”

To visualize this, consider: From Clarksville to Kildare/Jim’s Bayou is 85 miles and I recall crossing a creek aptly named “Jim’s Bayou Creek,” which is named after him. In 1835, Clark led some Red River settlers down to Nacogdoches and beyond.

My purpose of visiting Jim’s Bayou was to see a beautiful, historic, two-story white building made from extremely durable Heart Cypress wood. It was so tall it almost reached three stories. That building was the home of the Baptist Church and Masonic Lodge since the year 1878. It still is home to the lodge.

I was privileged to attend a regular meeting of the “Jim’s Bayou Masonic Lodge #491.” I was welcomed and one of the lodge officers did a beautiful oratorical speech at the conclusion of the meeting. It was like stepping back in time to 1878. A beautiful oil portrait of President George Washington (also a Freemason) was on the wall, along with the “Eye of Providence” or “All-Seeing Eye of Almighty God,” nice gold painted emblems pertinent to the fraternity and a painting of The Ten Commandments. After all, the Masons shared the building with the Baptist Church. I saw an old pew, and outside was a fairly large black metal bell, which obviously rang for church services and for school to commence.

About all that is left is the “new” Baptist Church right next to that historic Jim’s Bayou Masonic Lodge building.

I took my cousin Carole along so she could see the historic ambiance of the building. I made it up the long flight of stairs slowly under my own steam, and I reflected on the hundreds of people who had stood where I was for the past 141 years, conducting the exact same honorable ceremonies.

A crowd of cars was already present when we arrived. Both the Baptist Church and the lodge had events that summer evening. It’s remarkable that when that building was erected, Texas had been a state only 33 years. Therefore, it’s obvious that men who lived and breathed during the time of the Republic of Texas had entered those doors and stood where I stood.

Longview has its share of landmarks. But practically the entire time Longview has been a town Jim’s Bayou Masonic Lodge was proudly standing. I was awed by that. I’ve been inside lodges that were chartered earlier, but that lodge is likely one of the oldest East Texas lodges in continuous use (since 1878).

Little did I know that James “Jim” Clark was born in 1799 in Sumner County, Tennessee, which is the same county where my great great great grandfather Zachariah Williams was born, circa 1790.

Clark graduated from the University of Virginia, later moving to southwestern Arkansas and in 1830 taking an oath to Mexico to become a colonist. In 1838, two years after Texas became a Republic, he was awarded a whopping 4,605 acres and later awarded an additional 320 acres from the Texas Secretary of War for military service.

Had Clark not died of a throat ailment while surveying, he would have been more a part of our area’s history. He was slated to spearhead Anglo migration in the area we call Longview today.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

Today's Bible verse

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63:1

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