SENIOR WRITER SUZANNE FREEMAN
Editor’s note: This issue of The Picayune Magazine takes a look at Highland Lakes history, including sit-down interviews with people who “Remember When.” A new feature in the magazine, “Remember When” will appear regularly along with other stories that explore the roots of our community. The series begins with two women who are very dear to me: my mother and my aunt Mary. Although I grew up in San Antonio, Burnet County better defines me and my life’s journey. Both my Burnet and Marble Falls families go back at least five generations. I want to tell your stories, too. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about your family roots in the Highland Lakes so we can sit down and visit.
The decor in the homes of Marble Falls natives and sisters Frances Clark Felps and Mary Clark Wimberly reflects their love of days gone by, especially those from their childhood when a wooden bridge crossed the falls and cows were herded down Broadway to the railroad station. The loud, dusty spectacle passed within yards of their home on a regular basis.
“That was so exciting,” Mary said. “We would stand there on the front porch and watch. I think they were Stimus Darragh’s cattle. They came down our street to keep them out of the center of town.”
Mary was born in the house on Broadway, which still stands across the road from the Marble Falls Housing Authority office between Avenues N and J. Older sister Frances was 3 when they moved there. The family lived in a tent until the first two rooms of the house — the kitchen and a bedroom — were built.
Parents Angus Lloyd and Icia Mae Wheeler Clark raised their three children, including a middle child, the late Lloyd Angus Clark, in what would become a four-room house that Angus built out of rock he collected on the job. He was a stone mason by trade, most likely taught by his father, who came to Marble Falls in the late 1880s by way of Scotland through Kentucky.
“Daddy got the rock here and there when he was working with George and Grover Finney,” Mary said. “That same rock was used in a lot of houses. Used to, we could go around and say, ‘Daddy built that, and he built that, and that one.’ He built a lot of them. Some of them are still here.”
Angus was born in 1906 on the Whitman Ranch west of Marble Falls. He met his future bride at a dance in Smithwick not far from there. The pair exchanged love letters for a few months before running off to get married, which sounds daring, but they were both older than average for first marriages in those days. Angus was 31; Icia Mae, 27.
Angus was late to the altar because he was the main provider for his mother and four younger siblings, working as a stone mason and laboring on local farms.
“Can you imagine your husband dying in 1928, and you have five kids and no way to make a living?” said Mary, referring to grandmother Lela Lillian Cayce Clark. The Cayces came to Marble Falls via Fulton, Mississippi, progeny of a prominent Southern family left destitute by the Civil War. “I can’t even imagine how she did it.”
Icia Mae’s story is similar. Her mother died in childbirth when she was 9. Her father remarried quickly — he had four children, including a newborn. An independent spirit, the future Mrs. Angus Clark went to work and college as soon as she could. She was teaching at the Mormon Mill School when she met Angus.
His mother, Mamma Clark, was a favorite with her grandkids. She played dominoes with them, told ghost stories that kept them up at night, and always had something sweet to eat. She made tea cake cookies most nights to have with her evening coffee. When ingredients were scarce, she would put bread, canned milk, and sugar in the coffee and call it pudding.
“She made the best breakfasts,” Mary said. “She made sugar syrup. Daddy did, too, but Mamma Clark scorched her syrup, and it was so good. She cooked the best biscuits, and she always put a bowl of bacon grease by her plate.”
At dinner time, everyone gathered around the table at Angus and Icia Mae’s house. Mamma Clark lived just on the other side of the creek and down a piece on Avenue J.
“We’d go out in the garden and wave a white rag when dinner was ready,” Frances said. “Mamma Clark would be watching for it, and then she would come on down and eat.”
The kids all played outside in summer and winter, skating on the creek behind the house on bitter cold days and building warrens of tunnels and rooms through the brush when the heat bared down. They tied strings to sticks and built hitching posts to tie up their “horses.” Where Burkes, Ford & Crew Home and Hardware, and Bealls now stand, they hunted small animals with a .22 rifle — three kids playing in what was then miles of wilderness.
Chores included finding a place for their cow, Ol’ Yellow Gal, to graze free of sour weeds and grapevines. They also had to gather eggs from Icia Mae’s 100 white leghorn chickens. Sometimes, that meant breaking a few chicken necks and plucking feathers, too. They churned butter in a jar, though Mary recalls a butter churn in later years. (Frances says no.) A professional seamstress, Icia Mae made all their clothes, even their coats.
The girls both went to the old Granite School down the road, which now houses The Falls on the Colorado Museum. They discovered dams were being built when new kids showed up in class.
“Normally, it was just our cousins we went to school with,” Frances said.
Frances has fond memories of a favorite teacher, Mrs. Ramsdell.
“She walked to school every morning with a freshly starched white shirt and a colorful skirt,” Frances said. “And she always wore a flower. I thought she was the most perfect person.”
Another reason she liked her second-grade teacher? Mrs. Ramsdell caught Mary sticking her tongue out and made her hold it that way in front of a mirror for punishment. (Mary doesn’t recall.)
“I remember it because I thought it was funny,” Frances laughed.
Mary, 76, raised her family in Marble Falls, while Frances moved around some, bringing up her kids in San Antonio. Now 81, Frances has lived in Bee Cave for the past 46 years. Both are great-grandmothers.
Favorite pastimes today include shopping vintage stores. The sisters both collect and cherish antiques, which they arrange in shabby chic vignettes on every available surface in their homes, including tabletops, sideboards, shelves, and china cabinets. Mary favors toy tea sets, sheep curios, and ornate lamps, while Frances has amassed a formidable collection of china plates, soup tureens, and angel figurines.
Also in common: They hold Marble Falls dear to their hearts.
“To me, it will always be home. It’s the place where I grew up,” Frances said. “I just wish it was more like it used to be.”
“To me, it’s sanctuary,” Mary said. “My home is my sanctuary, and my home is Marble Falls.”