Historical fun in downtown Belton

Over the weekend, students are used to traveling back home or visiting their favorite hangouts around the Belton area. But besides the everyday coffeehouse, or the recently built movie theater down the street, so many buildings around this small town are left untouched and ready to be explored by    Crusaders.

Take Cochran, Blair and Potts, for example. This building is the oldest family-owned department store in Texas. The building has been around for almost 144 years and includes a historical museum upstairs above its main floor.

In the museum, you can find old mannequins that were used to display clothing and old log books.

Owner and president of Cochran, Blair and Potts, Rob Potts has worked at the store for 40 years. He says the books were used to keep records of every customer and sale during that time.

He continues to add to the museum, not just with artifacts left in the store, but also with goods brought in from the people of the community.

Senior mass communication/journalism major Terryn Kelly admires a mural painting that depicts the history of the oldest department store in Texas, Cochran, Blair and Potts. Photo by April Littleton/The Bells.

“Whenever we get something…we’ll either have something we find down here (in the store) we want to put up, or people bring stuff that they may have gotten from the store 50 years ago,”        he said.

Potts is the sixth generation to work at the store. It was founded in 1869 by his great, great, great-grandfather Col. H.M. Cook, who originally named the store Cook Mercantile Company.

Today, various products are sold, including clothing, shoes, assorted candies      and statues.

Potts said December is the busiest time of year for the store, with customers looking for unique gifts.

The customer favorite is the various types of cowboy boots located in the store’s shoe department. Potts said the clothing section is also a big hit with shoppers. The store offers ladies’ and men’s departments.

Even after working at the same place for so many years, Potts finds his career to be satisfying.

“It’s a unique job. I like it. I like all of the people who I’ve met over the years and gotten to know. They’re not just customers, but they’re friends. So, that’s been rewarding. There’s not a lot of stores left like this anymore,” he said.

Not only will first-time shoppers leave the store with fun new trinkets to enjoy, but they will also get to experience a taste of some good old-fashioned Texas history.

“I think everybody likes it. It’s not anything you really see anymore because there’s not that many stores left like this. It’s something I thought we needed to do to kind of help preserve history,” Potts said.

Similar to Cochran, Blair and Potts, the Bell County Museum has been showcasing Texas history throughout the local area since its opening in 1990.

Programs Coordinator Troy Gray said the museum displays several permanent exhibits during the year like Passport Through Time, which goes through the different decades of Bell County history.

“It touches on the Native Americans, Civil War, the Chisholm Trail, World War II and Fort Hood,” he said.

Sanctified Sisters of Belton is another exhibit displayed in the museum.

It also features temporary displays. These are highlighted at the museum for three to four months at a time.

From historical to archaeological, there is an exhibit for everybody at the Bell County Museum. The gallery gets an average of 10,000 visitors a year.

“We had a World War II vet who fought on D-Day come in. We get to meet all kinds of people and see a lot of great interactions,” Gray said, “We also enjoy our UMHB students who come.”

Junior pre-physical therapy major Jacy Mullins discovered the Lincoln exhibit during her free time.

She said, “I went to the museum out of curiosity. I didn’t think I would have much fun, but after taking a tour, I realized how much history was there. I liked it, and I think it’s something every student should take the time to go see.”

Author: April Littleton

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