"A visit to Bonham
should start with a stop at the Sam Rayburn House Museum on U.S. Highway 82 on
the west side of town."
East Texans under forty know little about Sam Rayburn, the man whose name is attached
to a giant reservoir on the Angelina River.|
But in his heyday, ďMister
SamĒ helped the nation through the Great Depression, World
War II, and into the prosperity of the 1950s.
A visit to Bonham
should start with a stop at the Sam Rayburn House Museum on U.S. Highway
82 on the west side of town. Operated by the Texas Historical Commission, the
museum is unique in that it preserves furnishings and other possessions just as
the Rayburn family left them--including Mister Samís 1947 Cadillac--when his sister
The two-story house is of distinctive Southern styling and
modest by modern standards. Rayburn himself was somewhat retiring, when compared
with the pomp of todayís politicians, and lived a simple life.
conservative and middle-of-the-road on most social issues, Rayburn never forgot
his rural heritage. He came to Texas from Tennessee
with his parents when he was only five and grew up on a cotton farm in Fannin
After serving in the Texas House six years, he moved on to the
U.S. Congress in 1912 and spent the next 48 years in Washington, including 17
as House speaker, one of the most powerful positions in Washington.
fellow who will cheat for you will cheat against you,Ē he once said, and then
helped pass regulatory laws that led to the formation of the U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to protect the publicís
He also pushed for federal funding for farm-to-market roads,
veterans hospitals, and rural electrification, all of which helped the ordinary
Rayburn helped convince Franklin D. Roosevelt to choose fellow
Texan John Nance Garner as his vice-president and, although he and Garner didnít
always see eye to eye, they were responsible for many of FDRís New Deal programs
in the 1930s. He also pushed Lyndon B. Johnsonís ascent to power.
Sam was responsible for creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built
Bonham State Park southeast of the
city. He also played a role in helping the federal government buy eroded land
and replace native grasses and vegetation. The result is the Caddo National
When Rayburn died in 1961--a year after Sam Rayburn
Lake was named for him-- his funeral was attended by three presidents.
Not far from the Rayburn House Museum is the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum.
Opened in 1957, the library is one of four divisions of the University of Texasí
Center for American History. Along with exhibits of photographs, art and personal
items, the centerpiece of the museum is a replica of Rayburnís office of Speaker
of the U.S. House of Representatives. The entrance foyer includes the white marble
speakerís rostrum that stood on the House floor from 1857 until 1950.
In the park next to the library is a replica of a cabin from old Fort Inglish,
the original settlement of Bonham. In
Rayburnís day, Bonham didnít change much and Mister Sam was often seen shopping
alone at a local grocery store.
12, 2004 Column, updated December 14, 2011
Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
Texas Towns | Columns