Though now a judge in the 59th District Court, Larry Phillips is still working on behalf of area residents seeking the Butterfield Overland Trail be made part of the National Trails System.
The former member of the state House of Representatives said the preservation of the historical trail could spark tourism in the Whitesboro area.
“I had some friends from the History Club of Whitesboro who challenged me to assist them to get Congress to make the trail a part of the National Trails,” Phillips said during a recent meeting of the Whitesboro City Council. “Historical tourism is called green dollars because it doesn’t require infrastructure to get started. People are coming to see the history.”
Phillips passed around a newspaper clipping from 2008 showing the monument Whitesboro dedicated to the trail. He said the citizens of the town were very committed to preserving their history.
Phillips talked about a bill that was signed into law by President Obama in March 2009 directing the Department of Interior to study the trail. That study ended in 2017 and it was delivered to the Department of Interior to be presented to the U.S. Congress. He said one of his last official acts as a state representative was to send a letter to the Department of the Interior asking it to send the study to Congress to take action. A month later, the department turned the study over to Congress and determined it was a viable trail to be added to the program.
“What we need you to do is to help us, all citizens in this community, to reach out to your congressmen to please consider making this trail a part of the national trail system,” Phillips said.
The Butterfield Overland Trail, which was used before the Civil War, started in St. Louis and Memphis before meeting in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before continuing through Indian Territory into Sherman. It then stopped at the Diamond Ranch before heading west to San Francisco.
“On behalf of the History Club, some friends of mine — Sheriff (Tom Watt), county commissioner (Phyllis James) county clerk (Wilma Bush) and others — are here to support this effort,” Phillips said as he motioned to the public officials who attended the meeting with him.
His request was for the council to pass a resolution asking Congress to approve adding the trail to the national system.
“I speak for all the council when I say we will be more than pleased to do our part to help in any way we can,” Whitesboro Mayor W.D. Welch said.
Phillips also mentioned Liz Moreland, as retired Whitesboro employee and History Club member, as having been instrumental in helping the movement along.
The National Park Service has made the trail a candidate to be included in the national trails.
“We have indeed completed the study and it has been transmitted to Congress for their consideration,” the service said in a written statement. “We evaluated the trail as eligible for designation as a national historic trail because it was nationally significant, feasible to develop, and both suitable and desirable for addition to the national trails system.”
The statement mentioned the trail did pass through Grayson County, however the exact route was not completely known. This was partially due to the trail only being used for a few years, as well as the Civil War making records difficult to track down. The statement was confident in the National Park Service’s ability to have re-created a fairly accurate representation of where the trail existed. That information was passed on to Congress for consideration.
“If Congress decides to designate the trail as a national historic trail, more research will be conducted as part of a comprehensive plan,” the statement read.
William Welch and his wife Sharron own a construction business in the city and helped bring the trail to the attention of Phillips.
“If it gets listed on Texas trails, it will increase tourism,” Sharron Welch said. “That’s a big assets of it, other than acknowledging our history.” Sharron Welch said.
William Welch called it a big deal for the whole town.
“When I was in grade school, I learned about the Butterfield Route, it is historically significant,” William said.