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Waco Hotels
Texas | Columns

A Moving History
Governor Bill & Vera Daniel Historic Village

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
The recent death of Bill Daniel of Liberty removed from East Texas one of its most colorful personalities, a bigger-than-life rancher and politician who, according to one of his eulogists, "squeezed a lot out of life."

Daniel, who was 90 when he passed away, was a member of a dynasty which produced Texas Governor and U.S. Senator Price Daniel, Bill's brother. Bill himself became governor of the U.S. Territory of Guam in 1961 through a presidential appointment by John F. Kennedy.

But Bill Daniel is best remembered by some admirers for one of the strangest events in East Texas--the move of an entire town from Liberty to Waco, a distance of more than 200 miles, in October of 1986 during the Texas sesquicentennial celebration.

Daniel and his family lived on historic Plantation Ranch. Over the years, he acquired more than two dozen historic buildings around East Texas, restored them and established a frontier village on the ranch.

In the l980s, Daniel and his wife Vera donated the buildings, their furniture and artifacts to Baylor University, where he graduated.

The caravan of forty moving companies from six states, made up of nearly 100 vehicles, snaked its way across the East Texas landscape through Palestine, Mexia, Groesbeck and dozens of smaller towns, seldom traveling more than 20 miles an hour.

Another caravan of nineteen truckloads of more than 8,000 artifacts and furniture preceded the procession of buildings to a site near the Brazos River on the Baylor campus.

The moving came with some restrictions from the Texas Highway Department. No structure could be more than 18 feet tall, 24 feet and six inches wide, or eighty feet long. Fortunately, the longest building in the village was a livery stable measuring 74 feet. Visions of a quaint caravan of antique buildings snaking across the landscape were dashed by another Highway Department regulation. The two dozen buildings and their support vehicles had to be divided into five separate caravans a mile apart, allowing for the passage of other vehicles on the roads.

Among the transported buildings were a 300-year-old water wheel-operated grist mill, a one-room schoolhouse, a town hall, a potato shed, a hide house where animal hides were cured, a log house where slaves lived, and twenty-three horse-drawn vehicles.

Larger buildings, such as the town hall and livery stable, had to be separated from their roofs or altered to permit the move down the highways. At the time, the move was believed to be the largest ever made for an entire village in the United States.

The Daniels bought Plantation Ranch in 1949, becoming the fourth owner. The ranch's founder was Aaron Cherry, Sr., who came to Texas in 1818, made friends with the Coushatta Indians and built his plantation home on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Cherry's friends included General Sam Houston and Captain Hugh Blair Johnson, Daniel's great-great grandfather and the first alcalde (mayor) of Liberty.

When the Daniels bought the ranch, it had reverted to a jungle. "There were vines and brush growing even in the plantation house, the fences were down and wild hogs ran everywhere," said Daniel in 1986.

Over the years, the Daniels opened Plantation Ranch for special parties for crippled and handicapped children, bringing in such stars as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams to entertain.

Today, visitors to Waco can see the village standing near the Strecker Museum.

Governor Bill & Vera Daniel Historic Village

Mayborn Museum Complex, Waco, Texas
1108 university Parks D.
Mon.- Sat. 10 a.m.
254-710-1160.
Admission Fee.

Book Hotel Here > >Waco Hotels

All Things Historical August 7, 2006 Column
Published with permission

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