Monday, November 14, 2016

A Museum for Kerr County

Water Street at Sidney Baker Street, Kerrville,
a few seasons ago
Last Wednesday thirty Kerr County citizens gathered to discuss the idea of a museum of the history of Kerr County.
Dr. William Rector provided leadership for the meeting, inviting people from all over the county to meet and share ideas about a possible museum, to participate as a focus group.  They met in the basement of the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, which is a wonderful asset to our community.
The first question, of course, was whether the group believed Kerr County needs a history museum. It turns out they do.
My friend Michael Bowlin was there, and told the group folks in Kerr County have been talking about having a history museum since the early 1930s. At that time historical items were collected and displayed at the Arcadia, in nooks along the 'arcade' inside the theater. But those items were later returned to the donating families, and the museum idea faded away.
Later, Merrill Doyle and others attempted to get a museum for our community, but that effort never materialized.
The only lasting museum, he noted, was founded by Mrs. Josephine "Dodo" Parker, with help from a large group of volunteers: the Hill Country Museum, which was housed in the Charles Schreiner Mansion on Water Street.
Today there is no history museum in Kerr County, and the group meeting last Wednesday discussed five basic questions:
Do we need an historical museum? The thirty people attending felt like our community needs a museum dedicated to telling the story of our community, and not only from the creation of the county in 1856, but also about history of those who lived here before. One participant said it should cover the unique geologic history of our area, the story told by local archeology, and the history of the pioneers who settled here.
What should this museum look like or represent? The group agreed it needed to be inclusive, telling the story of the entire community, including the story of African-American families, of Hispanic families, and others. It should include the story of Kerr County's towns, but also the story of those outside of town, of the rich agricultural heritage here. It should tell the story of how music has been an important part of our community. It should tell the story of the whole community.
What are the most important characteristics of a historical museum? It should be interesting, and should be educational, with a focus on school children. It should have special exhibits which change often, not just displays that never change. It should have ways to engage the visitor. The facility should be able to expand as needed.
How do we make a museum in the hill country successful? Money has always been the biggest problem in efforts to make a permanent historical museum here. How can a museum program be designed to be self-sustaining and financially viable? This question will continue to be discussed for many more months.
And, finally, what approaches would this group suggest? There were several good suggestions. Some mentioned a museum in Alpine, the Museum of the Big Bend, which might serve as a model for a museum here. That museum is part of Sul Ross University, and from the research I've done since Wednesday's meeting, that museum is quite impressive. Others suggested contacting the Texas Historical Commission, to ask for guidance. Others talked about the museums in Mason and Fredericksburg, which might also be good models to consider.
All in all, it was a good start. There were a lot of good ideas shared, and I hope Dr. Rector and his group are successful in their efforts.  We'd like to hear from you: here's a survey you can take.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks Kerr County needs an historical museum. It turns out he is not alone in this belief.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 12, 2016.

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