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County looks for plan B for monument relocation

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County officials and interested community members have gone back to the drawing board to find a new home for two Confederate monuments after the state historical commission indicated that they would not support their relocation to a new park in Camp Swift.

Last summer, a group of citizens requested the removal of two monuments at the Bastrop County Courthouse referencing the Confederacy: an obelisk donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the early 1900s, and a marker from the state honoring former Texas governor Joseph D. Sayers. After much debate by officials and the public, the Bastrop County Commissioners Court voted to remove the monuments and appointed a committee to raise the necessary funds and find a new place for them. 

The court discussed an update on the matter during their most recent regular session on Monday, October 25. The county has been working with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) for the past several months to decide on a new site for the monuments that works for both the county and THC. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said he has met with several members of the commission, and members of the commission, including chairman John Nau, have expressed that they would object to the committee’s plan to build a heritage park near Camp Swift on Cool Water Drive to place the monuments. THC would rather the monument be displayed in a museum in Bastrop that is well-protected and easily accessible to the public, rather than in the proposed heritage park.

Pape added that, under the THC’s authority over courthouses and monuments located at courthouses, the county could be in violation and potentially face fines if the monuments are moved without a permit.

An alternative suggested by the THC is to place a portion of the obelisk monument, specifically the cube in the middle that bears the inscriptions referring to the Confederacy, in the first floor of the historic jail, which would be restored and turned into a county museum. The jail was damaged during Hurricane Harvey.

The court first discussed THC’s opposition to the location of the heritage park and the possibility of converting the historic jail into a museum to house the monuments during their October 18 meeting. With THC’s next meeting a few days away and with more information, the court had a more in-depth conversation about the possibility during their October 25 regular meeting.

Deep in the Heart Art Foundry has agreed to still relocate the monuments to this alternative site for about the same price, although a special foundation would have to be constructed so that the 10,000-pound cube does not damage the floor of the old jail.

Stan Graves, a preservation architect who has been working with Bastrop County and THC, said Bastrop County could have a $240,000 grant from THC to go towards repairing the jail, although that has not yet been finalized.

A potential new site for the Sayers monument could be at his gravesite in Fairview Cemetery, or it could be given back to the state, Pape said.

During public comment, several people addressed the court about the monuments.

Cheryl Lee, a co-chair of the monument relocation committee appointed by the court last year, spoke in favor of this new recommended site. 

“I am confident that this location will work, because I'm confident that this court is committed to restoring the jail and creating a museum attraction that will reflect diversity in our community,” Lee said. “It is the best solution we have in honoring both sides of this issue and honoring the wishes of the community.

Sharah Johnson, the other co-chair of the committee, also said she approves of the new proposal.

“I'm disappointed that the historical commission pretty much disregarded the work of our committee,” Johnson said. “But we've been all about compromise from our inception, and I think that this is a really good compromise for us.”

Carl Reese, a member of the monument relocation committee, spoke in opposition to the new recommended site, expressing concern about what would happen to the monuments with the new plan.

Due to the wording of the agenda item for the October 25 meeting, the court decided to table the item and hold a special meeting on the afternoon of Thursday, October 28 with a new agenda item.

The morning before the October 28 meeting, Pape received a call from Tami Hurley, the new president of the Texas division of the UDC. Pape had spoken to the UDC a year ago to see if they would be interested in taking their monument back, but there was no interest at that time. Now, Hurley is suggesting relocating the obelisk monument, in whole or in part, to a Texas history park in Bronte, near Abilene.

“We would love for the obelisk, and even the Sayers monument, to remain on the courthouse grounds,” Hurley said. “However, we realize that times have changed, and we want to be amenable to move with those times.”

After last Monday’s meeting, Pape wrote a specific plan with nine provisions for the monuments for consideration by the court at that meeting. If approved by the court, the county would request THC to approve the document as part of the application for permission to relocate the monuments.

The provisions include the commissioners’ court designating the first floor of the historic jail to be repurposed as a county museum, the THC approving funds to refurbish the historic jail, that both Confederate monuments be removed and stored in a safe location and this work will be funded by private donations, the middle cube of the obelisk would be relocated to the proposed museum at the old jail with proper contextual documentation, the county’s contractor would prepare a foundation that can support the weight of the granite cube, and the remainder of the obelisk monument and the Sayers monument would be stored until a suitable location can be found for each.

The quarterly THC meeting began that same day and would continue the next day, with an agenda item regarding the Bastrop County monuments scheduled for the second day. (Pape) said Graves was waiting to hear the outcome of the commissioners’ court meeting to bring the results to the THC meeting.

The commissioners and speakers during public comment discussed the logistics of and offered various possibilities for the museum, such as an exhibit about the monuments in the proposed jail museum if they are moved in whole to the park in Bronte; keeping just a portion of the obelisk monument in the proposed museum; putting the Sayers monument at the state cemetery, as he is the only Texas governor not buried there; creating a lighter, smaller-scale monument of the obelisk monument; or keeping the entire monument in the proposed museum, but disassembled in a way that it will fit.

The motion was approved by the court with four for and one against.

A brief discussion about the Bastrop County monuments was raised at the second day of THC’s quarterly meeting on October 29. Chairman Nau discussed the plan that the commissioners court voted on the day before, and the commission decided to table any action on the matter until THC works with Bastrop County on correcting the item regarding funding for restoring the old jail.