Thursday, October 18, 2012

City of Museums

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

During my two-year appointment as State Historian I intend to visit historical sites and events in all five corners of the Lone Star State, along with as much in between as I can reach. I've already visited El Paso, as well as several sites on the way west, and at the end of the month I'll be in the Panhandle. But on Friday, October 12, I was in the northeast corner of Texas, where I toured the museums and historical architecture of Texarkana.

I enlisted the help of Dr. Beverly Rowe, professor of history at Texarkana College and a past president of the East Texas Historical Association. Beverly has written three books on Texarkana, served on various museum boards, and volunteered as a docent at the Ace of Clubs House, a splendid Victorian residence. She and her husband have purchased two adjacent old downtown buildings and renovated them into a museum and into a lovely home. Beverly made arrangements with the local museums which greatly facilitated my tour.  
There is a local system of four museums, along with other museums which are privately operated. Three of the city's museums are under the direction of curator Jamie Simmons. The Museum of Regional History is housed in the city's oldest brick building, a commercial structure built in 1879, then expanded on later occasions. A visitor first encounters an interactive music exhibit featuring Texarkana native son Scott Joplin, the gifted "Father of Ragtime Music," along with Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, Conlon Nancarrow, and other regional musicians. Other galleries display Caddo pottery, area agriculture and industry, legendary Congressman Wright Patman, and other regional subjects. Jamie and Beverly proudly showed me the third floor, a rich archival collection that has much to offer scholars. 

Opened in 1924 as the Saenger Theater but soon
sold to the Paramount chain, this 1,600-seat
venue was a motion picture house for more than
half a century. Elegantly restored, today the
Perot Theatre is a noted performing arts center.

Curator Jamie Simmons and Dr. Beverly Rowe
stand in one room of the extensive archives in the
Museum of Regional History.



The Museum of Regional History.

This portrait of Scott Joplin was painted
by Luphelia Middlebrooks, and heads
a music display in the Museum of Regional
History. A few blocks away a mural of
Joplin adorns the side of
a downtown building.

Across the street is the Discovery Place, a children's museum that is frequently visited by elementary classes and day care groups, as well as by families. There is a new display of prehistoric animals, along with a living science lab and interactive exhibits on electricity and motion and the body. An irresistible attraction for adults as well as children is a 12-foot sound wall, a unique system of multi-shaped panels which produce musical sounds when stroked by the palm of the hand. 

A perenially popular exhibit at The
Discovery Place is a rope which
unravels to the length of a
person's intestines.

The Discovery Place is across the
street from The Museum of
Regional History.

This unique sound wall is being "played" by
Kyle Welch of Kilpatrick Elementary School
and his teacher, Lana Camp.


The Post Office and Federal Court Building
stands on an island in the center of
State Line Avenue.

A few blocks away Melissa Nesbitt, curator of the Ace of Clubs House, welcomed me to a magnificent Italianate Victorian residence. According to legend, in 1885 Texarkana lumberman James Draughorn drew the ace of clubs in a poker game and won a fortune. Deciding to erect an ornate family home, he chose a floorplan in the shape of an ace of clubs. Tours are given on Saturdays, and on other days tours  may be made by appointment. The house and grounds also may be rented as an unforgettable setting for weddings, receptions, lawn parties, or meetings.

Curator Melissa Nesbitt and Dr. Beverly Rowe
beside the front steps of the Ace of Clubs House.

Mrs. Olivia Smith Moore, longtime mistress
of the Ace of Clubs House, had 500 pairs of
shoes from Neiman Marcus in her suite.

Looking upstairs at the bedroom area

There are two "Tambour" doors -
pocket doors which slide up
and down instead of sideways -
in the parlor area.

The fourth city museum is on the Arkansas side of Texarkana. The Ahearn House was built in 1905, next door to the spacious home of Mrs. Ahearn's sister, which also still stands. The Ahearns had six children, three boys and three girls. Upstairs Mr. and Mrs. Ahearn had a large suite on one side of a long hall. On the other side the boys had a large bedroom in front, while the girls had a smaller bedroom in the rear. In between these two rooms was a large bathroom and a bedroom for the live-in "nurse," or nanny. Downstairs the music room was unusually large - to accommodate the family's two baby grand pianos.

A few blocks away, also on the Arkansas side, is the Fours States Auto Museum, operated by Paul Taylor and other antique auto enthusiasts. Most of the vintage automobiles are on loan to the museum. Currently the oldest car is a 1914 Studebaker in vintage condition. A quaint 1925 Chevrolet one-ton truck was used in the same peach orchard for 80 years, until 2005!

The Ahearn House was built in 1905 and
owned by the Ahearn family until its recent
acquisition by the Texarkana museum system.

Inside the Four States Auto Museum are, L to R:
board member Martin James, president Paul Taylor,
Dr. Beverly Rowe, and board member Sam Johnson.

The Rialto Building is suggestive of
New York City's famous Flatiron Building.

The Confederate Memorial stands
beside the State Line Post Office
and is in line with other
war memorials.

Back on the Texas side I visited the Lindsey Railroad Museum, operated by Beverly Rowe in one of her downtown buildings. Jeff Lindsey provides railcar storage from all 50 states and Mexico. Because of his interest in the railroad industry, Jeff and his wife Becky provided a substantial grant to Beverly. The Lindsey Railroad Museum already is attractive to railroad buffs, and plans are in motion for an even grander museum experience. Beverly intends to create an "1890s Old Broad Street Exhibit," and she is working to launch "Texarkana's Police & Fire Museum."

Elsewhere around town are numerous commercial, residential, and church buildings that will delight those interested in historical architecture. Many of these structures are unoccupied and in disrepair, but remain all the more worthy of inspection. Historic architecture is our most tangible reminder of the past, and Texarkana offers an architectural feast to the history-minded.

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