Historian's quest leads her to Lewisburg

Friday, May 9, 2014

By Karen Hall


Members of the Marshall County Historical Society heard a fascinating presentation at their quarterly meeting Sunday, when Cathy Handford described how a chance discovery in an antique shop catapulted her into a project that isn't finished yet.

In 2011, Handford said, she lived in a historic district in Houston, about two blocks from a delightful street of boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. She had an afternoon to herself, so Handford determined to walk over there, browse through some of the stores, and get a bite to eat. Her first stop was Grace & Co. Antiques, where she saw three identical black books, on top of an old tackle box.

The books turned out to be diaries, with the first one dated 1936. On the Jan. 1 of that year, the diarist describes listening to the LSU vs TCU bowl game on the radio. Being a die-hard LSU fan, Handford was fascinated by this mention of her team's first appearance in a post-season bowl game and bought the books.

Instead of carrying on with her plan for the afternoon, Handford took the books home to read.

She was quickly captivated with what the writer called "the comings and goings of an ordinary woman" in Corsicana, Texas. The diaries gave fascinating insights into the Texas oil and gas industry, centered on Corsicana, the site of the first major oil well west of the Mississippi.

The discovery of oil in Texas, "changed everything," Handford said.

It turned out she had the first diary (1936) and the last one (1960), plus one other, but had no clue of the writer's name.

In the last volume, a "ghost writer" wrote that the person who had been keeping a diary for all these years died on June 23, 1960.

From this, Handford easily found the obituary of Hettie May Leonard Loggins online, and learned that she had been born in Lewisburg in 1881.

"She was a very, very interesting woman," Handford said. "I had to find out more!"

The next day she was back in the antique shop, asking about the diaries, and starting to trace their whereabouts.

Now Handford has all but nine of the diaries, including all the war years.

She visited Corsicana in 2011 for more research and found Hettie May mentioned in many newspaper articles, but never with a picture of her.

Handford had almost resigned herself to never finding a picture of Hettie May but she kept asking, and eventually got a number of pictures, as well as learning about Hettie May's family connections in Lewisburg.

"What could I do but come to Lewisburg?" she asked. Since then she has made several visits, and many people have welcomed her into their hearts and homes, revealing small and large pieces of Hettie May's history before she moved to Texas. She was related to many prominent Lewisburg families, and always loved her visits here.

"The research officially never ends," Handford concluded. "Never stop looking until you find what you are looking for. It could be in a shoebox under a guest-room bed. There's all sorts of history out there.

"How could you not do the right thing by Mrs. Loggins' diary," she added. "Words outlive people."

"This is the third thing of this kind we've had," said historian Don Jeter, naming the Kitty Davis scrapbook and John Osborne's diary "with 40-odd names of the founders of Lewisburg" in it as the other two.

"Don't throw anything away," Jeter exclaimed. Audience member Bill Gold remarked he had been keeping a diary for 69 years, and Jeter said, "Don't lose it! We (the Historical Society) want it."