Weatherford Democrat

Local News

March 26, 2012

Historic beauty

PARKER COUNTY — Mary Kemp lets out a long sigh as she gazes over at the bluebonnets in front of the cabin on the Shaw-Kemp property.

Years ago, the family planted the bluebonnets out by the cabin, which has a state historical marker in front of it, and the flowers are already well into bloom.

“They have about two weeks,” Kemp said. “I need for them to have three weeks.”

The annual Shaw-Kemp Open House is a community tradition that is now in its 32nd year. Although it has been pared down from previous years — they no longer serve food, though guests are welcome to bring their own, and it’s only from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. rather than all day — the open house is still a much-beloved tradition in Parker County.

The recent rains have likely contributed to the bluebonnets blooming early. Each year when Kemp starts to plan the open house, she has to guess at a date as to when the bluebonnets will look their best. Two years ago, a tremendous downpour kept the Kemp family from holding the open house — there was flooding and the rain was just falling too hard. But, that year, the bluebonnets grew up to be 24 inches tall, Kemp remembered, so it was a disappointment that she and her family and friends who coordinate the event could not share them with the community.

But, all is not lost this year. While the flowers blooming in front of the cabin are already reaching up and looking glorious, there are several other patches along the property that are just barely starting to show signs of blooming.

“Those will be ready for the open house,” Kemp said, pointing to fields where acres of bluebonnets come back year after year.

As long as there isn’t another flood, the Shaw-Kemp Open House will continue.

For those unfamiliar with the event, it isn’t just a celebration of the lovely blue blooms for which Texas is famous. It’s also a history lesson and a trip back in time.

“I was born and raised in Parker County. My family came here in 1905,” Kemp said. “We didn’t have running water or electricity.”

Recalling the hard scrabble times of the county’s early years, Kemp maintained an interest in history.

That’s what led her to collect nine buildings which are also open during the tour. Through bidding processes and by negotiating buys, Kemp and her family bought old railroad buildings, a home and other early 20th century structures and have transformed them into a village at Mount Nebo — the name of the small mountain/large hill (depends on which way you look at it) which is on the property.

There is a schoolhouse, which is also the church on Sundays, a jailhouse, grocery store, barber shop, dentist’s shop, a home and more. Of course, there is the historic cabin. Tennessee native Thomas J. Shaw built the cabin, which has a very Little House on the Prairie look, complete with loft and one big room, and he and his wife had eight of their 13 children in it. In 1876, he enlarged the cabin, doubling its size. It was in that cabin — without electricity, without running water — that he lived until his death in 1904.

The outside of the cabin is decorated with items that people have donated to Kemp — old saws and tools from the late 19th century and early 20th century. The inside of the cabin and the other buildings on the property are also decorated with period pieces.

The DeBeauford-Kemp home, which was built between 1908 and 1910, even has an old-timey phone — the kind with the two large bells and a hand speaker, a predecesor of even the rotary phone. It was in that house that Kemp and her husband lived and started their family. The house, filled with antique dolls, has a boy doll and a girl doll in the window representing Kemp’s children, she said.

Visitors are welcome to take photos on the grounds and in the fields of bluebonnets, Kemp said.

A hill that passes along the main road will have the six flags of Texas flying overhead during the day. There will also be music throughout the afternoon at the DeBeauford-Kemp home.

Community members who volunteer to help Kemp will be on hand to help direct traffic onto the grounds and to add character — for example, Nadeen Murphree will be dressed as Minnie Pearl and her chihuahua will be a Mini-Minnie.

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