Once upon a time there was a little farm cottage, a family home. I know nothing about the family, other than they lived in the little once upon a time community of Union Hall (see note below photos). Our family undoubtedly worshiped their Lord (along with the rest of the community) in the Union Hall and in summer, among the oaks in the brush arbor just across the drive. If there were children, and I am sure there were, they attended school in the same Union Hall. Dad farmed nearby, while mom tended to the home.
The family would have been part and parcel of the little community’s closely knit social life. The father, as was the custom, would join with the other men in raising a log house, building a crib, or a fence, or perhaps in a game of horseshoes. The little cottage in our painting was more than likely a house built by these men.
While the men were doing their thing, the lady of our painting joined the neighbor ladies in a quilting or sewing bee, in preserving the fruit of the land, or perhaps for a time of baking. Meanwhile, the younger kids played, while older boys helped their dads, and the older girls, joined their mothers. If the weather was warm enough you might find children and adults down at the swimming hole in the South San Gabriel.
At the end of the day’s chores, the family of the painting joined the rest of the community to pop corn or pull taffy, or for some music and dancing, perhaps even for a “hymn sing.” Union Hall had a quaint tradition: when a new house had been raised, it was turned over to the children for an evening “play party” (supervised by adults, of course). The season often determined the play. Maybe the kids bobbed for apples in the fall, or participated in an Easter Egg hunt in the spring. I am sure, if their were older children, or maybe a single young adult, in our home they, along with the older neighbor children and young adults, at Christmas participated in the gathering of mistletoe which grew (and still does) abundantly in the oak trees; and in all that went with the gathering of mistletoe. I suspect, the parents too.
Let’s imagine that the family of our painting had a daughter, who perhaps following in her mother’s footsteps, was engaged to a young man of the community or maybe to someone she met during a summer brush arbor. Weddings in Union Hill were simple community affairs. With our couple, choosing to live in Union Hill, the men came together a build a house for our newlyweds to be. When it came time for the wedding, the women decorated the Union Hall. Everyone in the community, along with those residing nearby, received a hand delivered invitation. On wedding day, nearly everyone brought along potluck for the wedding reception in the hall or brush arbor tabernacle.
Unfortunately, we — or at least I don’t — know what really happened to this family. Nor do I know what happened to this little cottage. I hope my story is close. All I know is that today, there remains nothing but a foundation and a bit of the household scattered here and there … and this painting … leaning against a somewhat new shed. Sad.
Union Hall, Texas | Located on the S. San Gabriel R. in western Williamson County | Settled 1846
The original settlement consisted of five families who built their homes all in a row. The community pretty much remained this way until after the Civil War when a dozen or so new families settled in the community building homes of log and stone. Water was provided by a nearby spring. Almost all of the men having served in the Confederate Army, a few were veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto. The settlers mainly farmed the area, producing corn, wheat and cotton.
With the number of children living in the community growing, by 1873 the need for a public school became obvious. Prior to this time, schooling was a private venture conducted in a private home. The first public school was built in 1874 and was called Union Hall, lending its name to the community. A new schoolhouse built in 1890 (and again in 1930) doubled as the home of the Union Hall Missionary Baptist Church. However, as with the old school building, the new school continued to serve a number of other denominations. The school was consolidated with Liberty Hill and Leander in 1949. By the 1970s Union Hall had all but disappeared. The only active remaining trace was the Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church, still meeting in the schoolhouse. In 2014 the church is still functioning.
Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1888 when five families withdrew from the Liberty Hill Baptist Church and organized as an Independent Missionary Baptist Church of Christ. There first place of worship was in the old log school in what was to became the Union Hall Community. The same year the two men who owned land in the center of the community donated seven acres to build a building “to serve as a church and school forever.” Billy Johnson, one of the donors, reserved the right to be buried on the property, but the property was not to be used for a public cemetery. [Johnson’s single grave resides on the edge of the parcel.] As several denominations used the building it was decided to call the building “Union Hall.” The community thereafter became know as Union Hall. In 1894, the Independent Missionary Baptist Church of Christ permanently moved into the school building, at the same time changing their name to the Union Hall Independent Missionary Baptist Church of Christ. During the summer, during “revival time,” the church moved to a nearby brush arbor closer to the South San Gabriel River, with people coming from miles around, many camping near the grove for the duration of the revival. In 1986 the old church was expanded with a new addition.
*NOTE: One Sunday afternoon while wandering about what was once the little community of Union Hill I came across among the ruins of two older houses a “newer” metal shed. Leaning against the shed, which surprisingly housed a newer lawnmower, was this painting. Several months later, I returned to the same spot, to find the painting still leaning against the shed.