City to unveil 'Half Mile of History' markers in downtown Tyler

City to unveil 'Half Mile of History' markers in downtown Tyler
City of Tyler
News
Monday, January 27, 2014 - 4:48pm

The City of Tyler will host a ceremony to unveil two new Half Mile of History markers in downtown Tyler on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The stones are part of the Half Mile of History heritage trail and honor Thomas Bonner and the Tyler Civic Theatre Center.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the Main Street Gallery on 110 W. Erwin Street.

The City of Tyler’s Half Mile of History program resulted from recommendations that came out of the Tyler 1st Comprehensive Plan. The fifth goal of the Historic Preservation Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan is to “promote and display diverse aspects of Tyler’s history to enhance resident and visitor awareness of its importance.”

The goal of the Half Mile of History program is to pay tribute to people, places and events that have contributed to the rich history of Tyler and Smith County.

The Half Mile of History is a permanent, outdoor half-mile loop that surrounds the square in the heart of downtown Tyler. Stone plaques are placed in the sidewalk along the Half Mile of History to commemorate significant people, places or events.

Honoree Thomas Bonner (1838-1891), was born in Holmes County, Mississippi, on Sept. 11, 1838. He moved with his parents to Rusk, Texas, in February 1850. At 12 years of age he became an apprentice printer with the Cherokee Sentinel.

He educated himself by reading and through self-directed study. He left the Sentinel to take charge of his father's farm in 1854 and was a farmer at the outbreak of the Civil War. He entered Confederate service in April 1862 as a captain, in Company C, of Col.
William B. Ochiltree's 18th Texas Infantry. He was subsequently a major, a lieutenant colonel, and a colonel of the regiment, which served in the Trans-Mississippi Department as an element of Walker's Texas Division.

After the war, Bonner farmed until 1866, when he began reading law in the office of his older brothers, W. and M. H. Bonner. He was admitted to the bar in 1867 and practiced law in Rusk until September 1872, then moved to Tyler, where he entered the banking business with E. C. Williams. Williams & Bonner Bank was the first bank in Tyler. He advocated industrialization and economic expansion. He also supported railroad development statewide along with the Tyler Tap and the Kansas & Gulf Shore line. Bonner became a leading East Texas banker, railroad director and financier.

In 1866 Bonner represented Rusk County in the state legislature. In 1876 he was elected to the legislature from Smith County and was speaker of the House during the ensuing session. After a term in Austin, he returned to Tyler to organize another bank, Bonner & Bonner, where he served as president until his death in 1891. Bonner is buried in Tyler at the Oakwood Cemetery.

Another honoree, Tyler Civic Theatre Center (TCTC), was incorporated as a State and Federal non-profit organization in 1949. TCTC is approaching its 65th consecutive season of providing outstanding amateur plays and musicals to "Entertain, Enrich and Educate through Theatre.” The incorporation coincided with the building of a 130-seat theatre at 400 Rose Park Drive. The driving force behind designing a theatre-in-the-round was Alfred Gilliam, who at that time was the director of the Circle Theatre at Tyler Junior College.

Gilliam and Mildred Stringer sketched out a square or round theatre, with a floor stage and elevated seats on all four sides, thereby allowing attendees an up-close and personal interaction with the performers. In 1951, the first theatre in the United States designed solely in-the-round opened with Alfred Gilliam as the first director of Tyler Civic Theatre Center; a position he held until his death in 1988. The Theatre is acknowledged as the first and longest continually operated theatre-in-the-round in the United States.

In 2002, with the addition of the Braithwaite Theatre, the original theatre was renamed as the "Rogers Children's Theatre" in memory of Tyler philanthropist Robert M. Rogers. It continues to this day to be used on a daily basis for the theatrical education of children and young adults, as well as for performances featuring actors in their age groupings.

Over the past 64 years, the Tyler Civic Theatre Center has averaged six major productions per year to an estimated audience of 50,000 individuals. TCTC is a member of Texas Non-Profit Theater Association, the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tyler Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors, the actors and the crew are volunteers who give of their time, talent and treasures to allow TCTC to provide Tyler, Smith County and East Texas the finest theatre experience possible.
 

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