Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge's Office

Wrightʼs Park
By Robert Moore & Gary E. McKee

On the southwest side of Schulenburg is a part of town referred to as Sandtown due to its location in the sandy floodplain of the West Navidad River. This part of town was the home to the majority of the black population of Schulenburg for decades. For the last 60 years, the focal point of the community has been an establishment known as Wright’s Park.

In 1945, Olton Wright purchased several acres of land at the end of James Avenue. With the idea of a social center/dance hall/club, Wright and his wife, Josephine, set about to raise money to develop the land into what is now known as Wright’s Park.

The plan was that while Olton worked at Ruhmann’s shovel factory in Schulenburg, Josephine would take their four children to East Bernard to pick cotton for the summer. When the season was over, the Wrights had $500 to work with. Olton bought a building which had been used at the Schaefer Cotton Gin to store cotton seed hulls. With the help of family and friends, the building was dismantled and moved using a horse and wagon. While this was going on, Josephine and the children, using axes, handsaws and shovels, set about removing the yaupon thicket which covered the land.

The year 1947 saw the construction of a wood frame building sheltered beneath large live oak trees. Juneteenth 1948 was chosen to be the first day of operation. Juneteenth (June 19) is the anniversary date that the proclamation freeing the slaves of Texas was read in Galveston in 1865.

On June 19, 1948, Wright’s Park opened its doors. People from a 40-mile radius of Schulenburg attended, playing baseball, eating barbecue and dancing into the night.

The popularity of Wright’s Park grew. After a few years, Mr. Wright started the Southern Pacific Picnic. For many years, every Fourth of July, a train full of families from San Antonio would ride the Southern Pacific railroad line to Schulenburg. The train would let everyone off at the Carnation plant siding on James Avenue instead of the downtown depot. The “pilgrims” would walk several blocks to Wright’s Park. Church services would begin at 11 a.m. under the live oak trees, followed by dinner being served at noon. The afternoon was spent playing baseball and visiting with old friends and relatives. In the evening, there was always a big dance with the “pilgrims” catching a late night train back to San Antonio.

With the success of the park, Wright continued to expand, focusing on the children by starting a zoo. Pens were built, and children got to see up-close raccoons, possums, peacocks and other local “wild” animals. His favorite was a monkey he made into a pet. For the adults, there was always a free sample of homemade wine made from the wild grapes growing behind the hall.

When the black school building (J.A. Greene) was being replaced by a new brick one in 1952, classes were held inside the Wright’s Park building. The dance floor was divided into four sections for the classes.

In 1960, Olton asked his daughter, Ora Mae, to help out with running the park. Under her guidance, the park became a part of the Chitlin Circuit, the only places that would allow black musicians to play. She booked many acts that are now famous, such as B.B. King and Albert Collins.

In 1962, Olton and Ora Mae, who was married to Clarence Moore, began their Easter celebration at the park. Every Easter Sunday, after church services, all of the kids in the community would rush down to Wright’s Park, trying to get the largest Easter basket. Olton would always buy all of the baskets and eggs that the children would hunt.

With the Schulenburg Festival parade becoming well-known, Olton built his first parade float based on the “old lady who lived in the shoe” and filled his float with the children of his neighborhood. In the first year, 1972, he won first place. This inspired him to enter parades in surrounding towns, which resulted in his winning many awards.

As his health declined, Olton continued being a civic leader, with his daughter taking the lead. She played Santa Claus for the community numerous times for the annual Christmas party for the area. The class of 1976 of Schulenburg High School had a graduation party there, and the annual event continues today.

After Mr. Wright’s death in 1984, the Moore family remodeled the park and for a decade, the park continued to be open daily. In 1995, the park was scaled back and opened only for receptions, dances and parties.

In September 1997, Robert Moore, the grandson of Olton Wright, reopened the park to serve the community. Under Robert’s guidance, Halloween youth parties, a Christmas formal, a Red & White Ball on Valentine’s Day and now the yearly Juneteenth anniversary celebration have been held. Robert has also sponsored cemetery cleanups and trail rides.

This year, from June 16-19, Wrights Park again hosted various festivities, which featured a parade on Sunday afternoon, June 16 in downtown Schulenburg.