A smiling woman stands in front of bronze statue at museum
Nita Bankston draws inspiration from Sam Rayburn, the late congressman who's memorialized in a bronze statue at the Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham. Photo by Russell A. Graves.

When Nita Bankston sees the Sam Rayburn statue at the Bonham museum bearing his name, she imagines what it would’ve been like to meet the late congressman, who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years starting in 1940. “Every town has a history, but it is rare that someone from your town influenced the history of the world,” Bankston says. Though neither Bankston nor Rayburn were born in Bonham, both adopted the northeast Texas community as their own. Bankston grew up in small towns in Tennessee and Texas, and moved to Bonham in 1994 with her husband, Justin Bankston, after they met at Texas A&M University-Commerce (then called East Texas State University). The seat of agriculturally rich Fannin County, Bonham is also a center of light manufacturing and home to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ sprawling Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center. As the agricultural science teacher at Bonham High School, Bankston thrives in a community that still values its rural roots.

School Pride

“I believe schools are the heartbeat of any small town. I am fortunate to teach a subject I love and that keeps me connected to the community with service projects, stock shows, and families. I’ve taught so long I am on my ‘grand’ students. I have kids of parents who I taught my first years in Bonham. The kids and families are great, and the agriculture aspect of my job allows me to work with local farmers and ranchers, and get my students plugged into the agriculture community.”

Sam Rayburn Country

“I have listened to countless people tell about their encounters with Mr. Sam. He was elected in 1912 and served 48 years in the House, 16 of those as the speaker. He had integrity and never took money from a lobbyist. Any junket that he went on, he paid his own way. He knew if a person was a constituent or an outsider by the door they came to at his house. If someone came to the front door, he ignored it. If someone came to the back door, he rarely turned them away. His homeplace [the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site] will take you back to the first half of the 1900s in Texas. When you take the tour, you hear stories about how Mr. Sam helped incorporate farm-to-market roads after a bumpy ride to Dallas, and how he was a champion for rural America by influencing the Rural Electrification Act.”

Frontier Fort

“Right beside the Sam Rayburn Museum is Fort Inglish. The fort was one of the first Anglo settlements in this area and was built in 1837 by Bailey Inglish to protect settlers on the frontier. You can take tours in the spring to the early fall. While visiting, you can see a one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and a broom-making factory. It gives you a real sense of what life was like when settlers came to this area in the 1830s.”

Courthouse Revival

“Later this year, our courthouse restoration will be complete. When the facade of the old building was removed, the bones of the original 1880s courthouse were behind it. [A fire in 1929 destroyed the building’s roof and clock tower.] The community got behind its restoration by passing a $12.5 million bond. Soon, the original-style courthouse will be complete. It’s a beautiful building.”

Los Amigos

“My favorite place to eat is Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant. I love the Amigo Beef Fajita Taco Dinner, and for a snack, their French fries dipped in queso. Cindy [who retired recently after 16 years as the restaurant’s manager] knew me by name and what we wanted to order when we called in. We didn’t even have to tell her who’s calling. She just knew.”

Community First

“The thing I love most about Bonham is the sense of family and the kindness of the people. Yes, everyone knows everybody, but we take care of each other also. I was not born and raised here, but I have always been treated as homegrown. If someone is in crisis, we come together regardless of politics or religion.”

Town Trivia:

Population:
10,594

Number of Stoplights:
10

Year founded:
1837

Nearest City:
Dallas, 72 miles southwest

Marquee Event:
Fannin County Fair, Oct. 6-9

Map it:
Sam Rayburn Museum, 800 W. Sam Rayburn Drive; Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, 890 W. State Highway 56

 

From the July 2021 issue
The July 2021 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, "Hill Country Oasis"


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