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PICAYUNE PEOPLE: Cottonwood Shores couple preserves history through research, persistence

Michael and Nichole Ritchie of Cottonwood Shores

Cottonwood Shores residents Michael and Nichole Ritchie are self-proclaimed 'history nerds.' They recently located one of Burnet County's long-lost centennial markers. Staff photos by Brigid Cooley

Preserving history is a passion for Cottonwood Shores residents Nichole and Michael Ritchie. The couple’s interest in the past has led them to unique finds and projects, including rediscovering one of Burnet County’s long-lost centennial markers. 

“While everyone else plays video games as their hobby, ours is actually going out and doing research or going to museums,” Nichole explained with a laugh. 

“Both of us are kind of history nerds,” Michael added. 

Nichole, 27, and Michael, 26, met nine years ago as freshmen in college. They were living in the same dorm building at the time and quickly bonded over their shared historical interests. Now, six years into their marriage, the couple is settling into their newly built home in Cottonwood Shores.

Currently, Nichole works as a history teacher in the Llano Independent School District, while Michael is a budget analyst for the Texas National Guard. 

They started their history hobby by restoring tombstones when Michael was tracing his roots and visiting his ancestors’ gravesites. One day, they were at the grave of his fourth great-grandfather, just outside of Copperas Cove.

“We found his gravestone, and it was completely covered in moss,” Michael said. “Nichole said I should clean it, so we went home and started doing research and looked up the standards that the VA uses at national cemeteries. From there, we bought a ton of materials and set off.” 

While their tombstone restoration was originally just for family members, it has expanded. The Ritchies also clean the graves of World War II veterans and those who likely have no one visiting. They have to be careful, however, about which graves they clean. 

“The laws from the state of Texas on this stuff are very vague,” Michael explained. “If you have any connection to a relative, essentially, you have free rein to do what you want. So if I’m remotely related to someone, that’s easy to do. Then, from there, if we go to a cemetery, we try to pick out any military headstone we can find from World War II or prior because, at this point, there’s no one going. Anything more recent than that, we’ll usually look for permission from a relative, or some cemeteries have a cemetery association that can give you permission.”

The Ritchies have cleaned several local tombstones since moving to the area about three years ago. In fact, last year, they volunteered with “Legends of the Falls,” a theatrical hayride through Cottonwood Shores history and, with the city’s permission, began cleaning and restoring several tombstones in Fuchs Cemetery. The site was used as a staging area for part of the hayride.

In another major local project, the Ritchies relocated one of Burnet County’s long-lost centennial markers, which they found with the help of a book given to them by a friend and fellow history enthusiast. 

Titled “Monuments Commemorating the Centenary of Texas Independence,” the book was published by the Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations in 1936 to mark 100 years of statehood. Typed out on now brittle and worn pages is a detailed list of the locations and inscriptions of all of the centennial markers distributed across the state 86 years ago. 

According to the book, two centennial markers were placed on U.S. 281 in Burnet County: one north of the city of Burnet that commemorates the county’s founding and another south of Marble Falls to memorialize Granite Mountain. Both were missing. 

“The Burnet County one has been gone for at least 20 years,” Michael said. “The one in Marble Falls has been missing for probably about 30.”

One day, the couple decided to see if they could locate the Granite Mountain marker. Using the coordinates outlined in the book, they ended up somewhere behind La Quinta Inn, 501 FM 2147 West in Marble Falls. 

“We pulled over and started walking the hill right there,” he continued. “Sure enough, you could see the (marker). It’s just rolled down the mountain.” 

The couple theorizes that the marker, which became property of the Texas Department of Transportation after the centennial commission was disbanded, was lost when the U.S. 281 bridge was widened several decades ago. After reporting their findings, the couple has been working with TxDOT, the Burnet County Historical Commission, and county officials over the past two years to move the marker to a more appropriate location, which, in this case, will be just outside the main entrance of the county courthouse in Burnet. 

“The reason why we do it is to just kind of preserve (history),” Nichole said. “We find that very important because, you know, some guy just knocked this off the mountain as though it didn’t matter. It will be nice to bring this in — even just for tourists — to show what Burnet County is about.” 

Michael agreed. 

“Sometimes, on eBay, there’s really weird collections of some random thing that becomes cool 50 years later,” he said. “That happens because a person cared 50 years ago to save something no one cared about at the time. I see the same thing happening here. Eventually, people are going to care again. It’s preserving something that was put there for a reason in the past. And you’re showing that one person, two people, can make a difference.”