Cypress society preserves life the way it used to be
Hemmed in by highways, big-box department stores and manicured master-planned communities, Cypress Top Historic Park is an 1800s slice of life, left over in northwest Harris County.
On a recent Tuesday in July, members of the Cypress Historical Society were conducting tours of the old general store, dance hall, gas station and home, which were the nucleus of a far-flung agricultural community, once upon a time.
Society vice-president Karen McGilvery said visitors from across the country recall places just like the combination market, saloon and post office that E.F. Juergen began operating around 1897.
"People don't have to be from Cypress to relate to it," said McGilvery. "I think it's important that we're preserving Cypress history, but it goes beyond that. It's American history."
Preserving and raising awareness of that history is the goal of the Cypress Historical Society. It was formed in 2008 by several longtime Cypress-area residents, not long after Juergen descendants Gene and Delphine Zaboroski donated the 2.6–acre Cypress Top property to Harris County.
Joyce Zaboroski Kleb, who lived on the property as a child, is one of several Cypress Historical Society docents for Tuesday tours at Cypress Top. The organization also sponsors an annual summer picnic and reunion of Cypress residents, and gives presentations on local history and genealogy throughout the community.
"Cypress people know their own family history, but they don't know the history of Cypress very well," said society member Jim Sigmund, who notes that Sam Houston's Texian army camped along Cypress Creek on its way to San Jacinto, during the famous Runaway Scrape. "The society… is doing this research and presenting it to the residents of old-time Cypress. And showing them there is a lot of historical importance to Cypress that people don't know."
"Cypress Top" is the name for the area at 26026 Old Hempstead Highway that was a busy community hub in the mid-1800s. Extension of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad in the 1850s brought hotels, stores and saloons to the area - many eventually owned by businessman Juergen.
Juergen died in 1929, and his son Clarence Juergen refurbished and reopened the store around 1938. There was a dance hall nearby, and a gas station opened around 1956.
Nephew Gene Zaboroski, who lived in the Juergen home as a child, took over the various family enterprises in the 1980s and operated them until about 2002.
Today, the old Juergen Store offers an historic counterpoint to the modern shopping district that surrounds it.
Many of the old tools, products and fixtures were left behind when it closed for the last time. Flat irons, washboards and a long hooked device used to catch chickens are still "for sale."
Photos show early patrons seated on stacked beer crates in the saloon, or visitors can belly up to the bar on wooden stools polished smooth by more than a century's worth of denim.
In the Juergen home, a treadle sewing machine is one of several found in the attic - left over from the days when little was thrown away. Modern cell-phone kids marvel at the "antique" rotary telephone in the old Humble gas station.
Also stored were trunks full of documents, including the deed records and title searches for original Juergen properties.
"Being from the same family, all this stuff was really like a time capsule," said Sigmund. "It provides invaluable clues in terms of the history of the railroad coming through here and how important that was."
Since 2008, the society has grown from a loose-knit group of volunteers to an organization with big plans. The annual July picnic grows in size with each passing year. The society is working toward obtaining an historical marker for Cypress Top. Members also want to document the many small cemeteries tucked away on private property around the area.
"As we're growing, we are reaching out and touching younger people and more of the community - both old-timers and people in the new subdivisions," said Sigmund. "We had such a young crowd (at the picnic) this year. They all want to know and learn more about it. It's been kind of nice."
Darline Roth, the group's genealogist, has compiled the histories of 279 families from the area, with names like Zahn, Kitzman, Huffmeister and Telge. There are displays and pictures from many of those families on the walls of the Juergen Dance Hall, which is available today for parties, receptions and other community events.
Society members hope eventually that the historical society will have its own museum and office, apart from county-owned property, where they can display the antiques, documents and memorabilia they have been given by area residents.
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