Remembering John Houx

A few years ago, when the Van Alstyne History Commission began, we found Mr. Houx sitting behind his counter with his back to the front windows at his Van Alstyne Hardware Co. Up until then, we had never asked Mr. Houx anything in reference to local history; only questions regarding fixing things around the house. So, when Mr. Houx was smoking his cigarette with his very relaxed dog lying in the original wood plank, floor we began talking about the history of his building at 212 E Marshall – and it was at that point Mr. Houx perked-up. From that point forward, he gave us free reign to look about the building, which was built between 1901 – 1907.

When the building served as a dry goods, clothing, boots & shoes store in 1907, the frontier had been declared closed in the previous decade but the Indian Territories across the Red River would not become Oklahoma until later in the year, and the statehood of the Western Territories were yet years away. The storage area at the back of the hardware store was a separate adjoining building that served as some sort of shop, and later a tailor. That’s not counting what wooden shops and outhouses that occupied the same lot prior to the brick building – including the first official residence upon the founding of the town in 1873 (there were a couple other nearby homes when the townsite was merely a survey marked by posts and trees on the vast prairie dotted with groves).

Calling Mr. Houx’ store “Veasey Hardware”, or simply “Veasey’s”, still slips out of our mouths on occasion out of decades of habit, but Mr. Houx – with a motion of his arm – showed us the building served other purposes in the past. “The west half of this store was once the Lyric movie theater. See these pillars? A wall was here that divided it from the skating rink on the east half,” Mr. Houx advised. “Not a lot of room to roller skate, if you ask me.”

Mr. Houx directed us to the vast, decorative tin ceiling of his hardware store. “See the spot above the front door where the tin tiles are missing? I’ve been told that’s where the movie projector was hung from the ceiling, projecting the film that way,” Mr. Houx motioned northward, towards the back of his store. “Pretty crowded set-up,” we added. Mr. Houx nodded his head.

Mr. Houx even let us come and go freely at his other properties at the corner of Cooper and Main, and at Van Alstyne Parkway and Main – both formerly Fielder Lumber. The location on Cooper dated back to the 1890s as a livery & feed store, with a buggy shed, and then the current (as of this writing in 2017) tin and tree trunk structure by 1901. The location the next block up on Van Alstyne Parkway was once the site of the second schoolhouse in Van Alstyne, during the 1880s, then a two-story building with tin siding that served as the office and hardware store of Fielder’s, with a small apartment upstairs that few people knew about. As of this writing, a new home is being built on the site.

When Mr. Houx wasn’t overseeing his business at the front of his store, he could be observed doing business from his office towards the back. Whether his door was open or closed, we were free to let ourselves in and have a seat. We could take all of the photographs we wanted of the building while we would chat. Anytime we had historical information located on the internet to show Mr. Houx, he would find it on his computer and – instead of reading the information on the computer monitor – Mr. Houx would print-off what was on the screen (in expensive color), read it, and throw the papers away once the topic had changed. He would repeat this process as many times as it took, until he read everything on the websites he wanted to read. We always found this amusing, and he refused to do things otherwise and there was no point of trying to persuade him otherwise.

During the last days of the Van Alstyne Hardware Co. close-of-business sale, we drove by on our way to somewhere else and observed Mr. Houx sitting with his back to the window. We almost stopped by to see him, to share new information and talk shop, but said amongst ourselves, “Maybe next week. He looks too busy right now.” But there was no next week; just a message from a downtown business owner that Mr. Houx had passed away.

As of this writing, a new business is preparing the building for its purposes, one of only a handful of businesses that have occupied the location in the past 144 years. It will probably take some practice to break the habit of glancing up from the Marshall Street to see if Mr. Houx is sitting in the window, with his sleepy dog by his side.

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