The rural encampment just north of present-day US 90 in 1823 was nicknamed Lick Skillet by Humphrey Jackson who was among the first 300 settlers to settle in Texas. According to folklore, the name comes from a fireside phrase, “The East Texas oxen team drivers sipped fresh water from the spring and licked their pans clean.”

Booming population of over 3,000, depending on who you ask at the local barber shop, in the renowned town of Crosby will celebrate its bicentenary in September next year. Donna Swanson-Davenport, a Swede whose family was among the first to settle in Crosby, finds herself at the helm of the planning for the auspicious event.

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Swanson leads a committee of more than 60 volunteers and subcommittee chairs whose work will culminate on Saturday, September 23, 2023, with plans beginning February 15 this year.

Four generations of Swansons have settled in Crosby and Donna has every interest in seeing the celebration unfold as the biggest in the town’s history.

Current projects

The committee held its first meeting in mid-February this year in hopes of planning activities for the one-day eruption far enough in advance to be able to comfortably plan down to the smallest detail.

With no mayor or city council to help plan the event, Swanson turned to members of the Crosby Historical Society and Kim Harris of the Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce to coordinate the first meeting.

“We didn’t know how many people to plan and I was so surprised to see a full office with about 25 people showing up to start planning,” she said.

That number has now grown to more than 60 and she is happy to welcome more, Swanson said.

“My dream is to have the biggest party Crosby has ever had. You don’t get to be 200 very often,” she exclaimed.

She started thinking about bicentennial celebrations soon after her friend and colleague Jody Fuchs published a coffee table type book. The more than 500-page book is the most comprehensive work ever written on Crosby’s story, according to Swanson.

During her retreat days at home, she began compiling what ended up being an eight-page list of things she had read in other cities and states for their bicentennial celebrations.

“That’s where I started at the first meeting,” she said.

No celebration would be complete without a parade, of course, but she had a list of other things for the first group to consider.

“We really want our business community to thrive on this,” she said.

To that end, the committee is working on a passport that all students can take and visit at each of Crosby’s businesses.

“They collect a stamp from all the businesses that agree to participate and once they’ve been returned they can win prizes,” she said.

She hopes the parents of the students will buy and become customers in the businesses then or in the future.

Another of their ideas was to host one of the old fashioned street dances.

“Back then the only way to get into the dance was with a button and we’ll do the same with ours,” Swanson said.

Buttons will be available for purchase. Guests wearing buttons will be able to participate in the dance.

With the traffic situation as it currently is on FM 2100, it’s unlikely to be stopped, but the dancing would likely take place at the fairgrounds.

Like most fall festivals, they envision contests, auctions, raffles, vendor booths, food trucks, car shows, carnival, and plenty of family-friendly activities. A time capsule is also in the works, along with many other details.

“We want to make this interactive and educational for students who need to learn more about our history and traditions,” she said.

Many other suggestions are being considered and will be revealed over the coming weeks.

Growing up in Crosby

Born at Hermann Hospital in Houston in 1953, Donna returned to a home built by her parents in the Nelson Addition of Crosby. Nelson is the anglicized version of the Swedish names Nielsen and Nilsson.

“My mum and dad built the house during the nine months my mum was pregnant,” she smiles. The house is still standing. “They took me back to the house they built.”

The president of the Crosby Historical Society explained that the first settlers were the pioneers, and then the next large group were the Swedish people. It was not uncommon for families to build their own homes with the help of family and neighbors.

Her grandmother and grandfather worked for a family on Almeda Road, she was a maid and he was a driver.

“They were still getting the paper from Sweden and a fellow by the name of Alton Runneburg was saying there was a wonderful farm in Crosby, Texas,” she said. “He told the Swedes to come to America, there are places here where they can find very cheap land.”

His grandfather’s parents saw him and ventured to Crosby and found a plot which they bought and settled there to make a living.

Swanson said the Swedes settled in the area known to most as the area north of the FM 2100 curve where Crosby’s First Baptist Church stands today and was the center of Swedish activity.

Shortly after the Swedes settled, the Czechs arrived.

“They really passed us,” laughed Swanson.

“They were more in the Crosby Bohemian Hall Road area. They had their dance hall and their schools,” she said.

Her father returned from World War II and married. He was both an electrician and a plumber.

“In 1956, when I was three years old, he opened a household appliance store on rue Kernohan. In 1957, when Crosby State Bank moved, Dad bought this two-story building downtown to put his business there,” she said.

Her father renovated the upstairs into a two-bedroom apartment, and they lived above the business for most of her childhood. There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small living room, a bathroom and a shower room where she said her father shaved every morning. The building was on busy FM 2100 and a block from the train tracks.

At night, she could barely sleep as at least two freight trains and a passenger train crossed the tracks in the middle of the night, shaking the building.

“You get used to them. I still live a block from the train tracks,” she said.

They eventually moved from the upstairs apartment to a house behind Ace Hardware as she was about to start her freshman year in high school.

“I finally said to dad, ‘You really want me to kiss my dates on the streets of Crosby,'” she laughed. They bought the house and moved.

She attended Crosby Elementary, Crosby Junior High and Crosby High School. His senior year, 1971, was a tumultuous one as the district became part of Barrett.

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“There were a lot of white thefts, but my dad said, ‘We don’t steal anything,'” she said.

He served on the Crosby Equality Board and worked hard to make it work.

The Barrett and Crosby communities had to sacrifice a lot, including dropping their mascot names, Buffaloes and Dragons, and combined to become the Crosby Cougars. For Swanson, who was the yearbook’s publisher that year, his main task was to rename the yearbook.

“My dad encouraged me to look up synonyms for Cougars and I came up with the name Catamount,” she said.

The school has kept the name for the past 50+ years, and it was honored by the district on the 50th anniversary.

She married her high school boyfriend, Ronnie Davenport. Both taught in the school district, Ronnie as head football coach and eventually athletic director and Donna in the classroom originally, then as math coordinator for elementary schools.

Frustrated by the negative talk about Crosby and the forced integration, Swanson said her husband wanted to put Crosby on the map for something special.

“His goal was to coach the team and bring the two communities together through sport, and they did that. That’s when we really started to come together,” she said, pleased with the results.

Both retired in 2014, but Swanson began attending historical society meetings and fell in love with the projects and the work.

She has returned many times to reminisce about the early days of the tiny apartment in 2100, but since the new bridge was built by TxDOT, the building is obscured by the concrete structure.

“Something died when they put up the overpass, and we knew it would happen,” she said sadly.

Swanson said she hopes the bicentennial will present a positive image of the small town she grew up in and educate young people about their rich heritage.

The next committee meeting will be at Crosby Brethren Church in the gymnasium on Tuesday, September 27 at 6:30 p.m.

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