Waxahachie is full of treasures in plain sight.
We live, work and play in them, drive, walk and bicycle past them. Sometimes, we may even stop and look at them.
A new book in the works will dust off the priceless gems of architecture and history of many Waxahachie buildings and sites and put them on display for all of the world to see.
The currently titled “Waxahachie Architecture Guidebook” is being researched by historians Ellen Beasley and Margaret Culbertson and will be modeled after an architectural guidebook Beasley co-wrote on Galveston to make that town’s significant places known and appreciated.
“Waxahachie has a wonderful architectural richness and the book can help both people who live in Waxahachie as well as people who do not, it can help them appreciate and enjoy the wonderful things that are here,” Culbertson said. “Consequently, if they’re appreciated, they will also be maintained and preserved for future generations.”
The book began as an idea and a phone call from Waxahachie native Dr. Burke Evans, known in his Waxahachie days as Ernest, to Shannon Simpson, director of the Ellis County Museum.
“I’m interested in Waxahachie architecture and I was raised in Waxahachie until I was 17,” said Evans, retired chief of orthopedics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “I think Waxahachie has a beautiful cross-section of architecture.”
Culbertson, director of the Hirsch Library at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and a former Waxahachie resident, devotes one day a week to the project in addition to her other duties. After some preliminary trips for research and photography, Beasley, a consultant, moved to Waxahachie in June to work full-time on the book.
Beasley, who has worked on surveys, project planning and research all across Texas and elsewhere, said she enjoys the freshness of learning about new communities.
“I like going to areas where I’ve never been and learning as much as I can,” she said, though she wasn’t a total stranger to the town when she arrived, having driven through the town and heard about it from Culbertson; her father, Warren Culbertson, who still lives in the area; and Evans.
“Everything you find out is new — at least to me it’s new,” she said.
The book will feature maps, photos and short descriptions of architecture and history for each structure or site. Beasley said she has budgeted for about 500 images in the book, though not all of the buildings featured in the publication will have pictures.
Although the emphasis of the book will be on pre-World War II structures, Beasley said modern structures and other sites of value, such as parks and bridges, will also be included.
“Sometimes the associative value of a place can be more important than the visual aspect,” she said, adding she would like to include a variety of places of significance to the community.
Despite the enormity of the project, Beasley is planning for about one year to complete the necessary research for the book and about another year for writing, editing, designing and finding a publisher.
“I love all of it,” she said.
Evans contacted Simpson with the idea for the book about a year and a half ago, offering a financial contribution and a recommendation that he contact Beasley, whose Galveston work he was familiar with. Beasley, a previous acquaintance of Culbertson, invited her to join in on the project.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Simpson said. “It’s not every day someone calls you with a good idea who also has the money to back it.”
Simpson offers whatever assistance he can to the two researchers, helping them acquire records, maps, microfilm and historic photographs, as well as offering some technical aspects of putting the book together.
Watching the project unfold, Simpson has high hopes for the book.
“Judging by the quality of Ellen and Margaret’s work, I’m hoping and thinking that it will be the definitive book on Waxahachie’s architecture, as well as include a fair amount of social history,” he said.
A lot of the research comes from old deeds, financial records and newspaper clippings, Beasley said, and as much as possible she tries to include information not only on the structure of the buildings but on the stories of who built them, and why.
“This is a lot of material to collect,” she said. “Right now, it’s just a question of accumulating — things start to fall into place.”
Culbertson, who wrote a chapter about Waxahachie in her book “Texas Houses Built by the Book” about homes based on designs published in magazines and catalogs in the 19th and early 20th centuries, said doing similar research the first time around was a wonderful experience.
“In doing this, we’re really interested in getting concrete historical information about the buildings,” she said.
When all is said and done, those involved in the project hope it will be a meaningful contribution to the history and understanding of the community.
“The personal goal is to give persons who live in Waxahachie and who haven’t lived there a long time a greater awareness of its importance, its architectural wealth,” said Evans, who now works with child burn victims at Galveston’s Shriners Hospital. “The other is to have something that will sell Waxahachie.”
“The most important thing is it’s going to document a lot of Waxahachie’s architecture and history,” Simpson said, noting sales of the book may also assist the museum financially in the future. “I think it will be a great tourism promotional type item.”
In addition to Evans’ contributions, the project has also received funding from the city of Waxahachie through the Heritage Preservation Commission and Simpson hopes to encourage interest in the project.
Beasley and Culbertson will be featured at the annual membership meeting of the Ellis County Museum at 7 p.m. Monday, which is open to the public.
Beasley noted that any individuals who might have information on local buildings and sites to share can contact her through the museum at (972) 937-0681. The mailing address for the museum is P.O. Box 706, Waxahachie, TX 75168.