Going Beyond the Road in a Juneteenth Celebration
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Going Beyond the Road in a Juneteenth Celebration

By Kendall Kirkham Sloan

TxDOT went “Beyond the Road” at a Denton Juneteenth Celebration to help tell the story of a formerly enslaved blacksmith in the 1800s.

Denton County’s Bolivar Archaeological Project was on full display for the public, revealing artifacts TxDOT uncovered as crews planned to expand FM 455. Crews found the site during the environmental phase of construction.

That excavation, which wrapped up in early 2021, unearthed the legacy of a freedman named Tom Cook.

“It’s such a significant part of Denton County history and directly related to Juneteenth of course because Mr. Cook was formerly enslaved and became a successful businessman so soon after Emancipation,” TxDOT archaeologist Kevin Hanselka said.

Researchers revealed a portion of FM 455 was once the site of a blacksmith shop along the Chisolm Trail, owned by the formerly enslaved Cook in the late 1800s.

TxDOT and a team of archaeologists discovered a myriad of Cook’s tools, horse and mule shoes, and other artifacts that served as the impetus for a broader project, which included tracking down some of Cook’s living descendants.

Cook’s great-great-grandson, Howard Clark, was one of the family members invited to help excavate the site and be a part of outreach for the project.

“I couldn’t not help I mean, I had to see. I wanted to see it myself, it’s a part of my family,” Howard Clark said. “So my kids know and the other kids know that there was more to his history than just what you hear.”

Clark, after learning more about his ancestor, decided to learn more about blacksmithing himself. He signed up for classes with professional blacksmith Kelly Kring at Brookhaven Community College. Clark joined Kring at the Juneteenth event, to assist in demonstrating some historic blacksmithing techniques to the public.

“This is as close I’ll ever be to him on this side of life, it’s almost like I expect to look up and see him standing there,” Clark said.

Attendees at the event also had the chance to learn more about the old Sartin Hotel, which was uncovered across the street from Cook’s blacksmith shop.

Researchers and historians were on hand to discuss the project, its discoveries, and the environmental process at TxDOT.

All artifacts found throughout the Bolivar Archaeological Project have been documented and preserved to conserve this part of the community’s history.  Crews are also preserving a limestone well that was part of the Sartin Hotel on the other side of FM 455. TxDOT is in the process of securing historical markers for the site.

Learn more about the Bolivar Archaeological Project.