Yarborough home site of new museum in Chandler

Published on Sunday, 19 January 2014 23:01 - Written by BETTY WATERS blw@tylerpaper.com

Transformation of the childhood home of the late U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough into a museum and visitors center on the western edge of this town is nearing completion, with a grand opening slated March 1.

The goal to start a museum for Chandler started in November 2009 with an idea of a group of citizens. They formed the Chandler Historical Society, a nonprofit organization. At that time, historical articles were kept at the public library, which was running out of space.

“It was either figure out a way to add on to the library or come up with a special place for the collection,” Librarian Nancy Berthoff said of the dilemma the group faced.

The society looked at several places and then the old home place of the Yarborough family became available.

Athens Economic Development Corp. awarded a $30,000 grant to the society to buy the house, but it was sold on the condition that it would be moved from its site behind the post office in downtown Chandler.

“The city again came to our rescue,” Ms. Berthoff said, recalling that city officials offered the park.

The historical society members looked at the park and decided it would be the location for the museum.

But the historical society had to raise almost $60,000 to move the house to Arlie McCain Memorial Park and set it up.

Many fundraising activities ensued, and it took almost a year to complete payment of the move and start work on remodeling and setting up museum collections inside the house.

It was originally a dogtrot house until a staircase and second floor were added in the 1920s and the back porch was later enclosed.

Work to restore the house began on a lot of painting, minor repairs, sidewalks, plumbing issues, construction of a ramp and other steps to make the house accessible to the handicapped, construction of brick skirting for the house and reconnection of electricity.

Display shelves were brought in, some carpets cleaned and some replaced and flooring was redone in some rooms.

Individuals and groups “adopted” rooms, accepting responsibility for needed repairs and displays in each specific room.

In the meantime, the city and chamber of commerce decided to operate a visitor’s center in the new museum that will be staffed by volunteers from the historical society.

The house’s new name will be the Chandler Historical Museum and Visitors Center.

“I look back and I’m amazed we were able to do this in this short of a time period. It was quite an undertaking to have accomplished this for a town our size,” Ms. Berthoff, who is ecstatic over the upcoming opening, said.

“It was important for us to preserve this house and preserve the character of our community.”

The museum and visitors center will be open to help people passing through town who need information about destinations and for tours. Ongoing programs and events will be conducted in the museum, Ms. Berthoff said.

The cafï¿© displays Depression-era dishes, primarily kitchenware and glassware, and other items such as old manual typewriters and a carpenter’s toolbox.

The cafï¿© is reminiscent of a cafï¿© operated by Katherine Carnes in the 1940s and other past cafes. A menu from the early 1950s shows diners could order sliced roast beef for 50 cents, grilled cheese for 35 cents and a fried or scrambled egg for 35 cents.

The cafï¿© was adopted by Jim and Ann Powell, Scharlanne Powell Crozier, Rosie Carnes Bussman, Dorothy Ellis McHam and Martha Reagan Copeland.

The large living room, adopted by Don and Martha Copeland, will display items from Chandler businesses.

But in a corner sits an old fold-down organ used by circuit riders, who went from church to church, and which is believed to also have been used by military chaplains going from one battlefield to another to conduct worship services.

The living room also shows is a 1946 child’s doll playhouse, a sewing area with an antique sewing machine and an antiquated cash register from Chandler Drug Store.

Another room will be used for the visitors’ center and display school and city history items.

Throughout the museum are colorful posters drawn for the town’s 1980 centennial by Carney Waller, a former Hollywood set designer and sign maker who had retired and moved to Chandler at that time with his wife.

A small room shows a mannequin operating an old telephone switchboard. The scene is a partial replica of the telephone office in the home of Fannie Jones with the switchboard situated by the window looking out over downtown Chandler.

Ms. Jones ran the switchboard, working for Gulf States Telephone Co. from 1923 to 1969, starting as a young bride and retiring as a great grandmother. Ms. Roy Brewer tended the board during the morning hours while Ms. Jones cooked lunch and did household chores.

According to information posted on the exhibit, telephone lines in those days were party lines, which meant that several households shared one line. Each family on a party line had a combination of different short and long rings, but it was common for people to listen in on each other’s conversations hoping to hear the local news or a bit of gossip.

The town did not have a newspaper in those days and a lot of news was spread via Ms. Jones’ “telephone exchange,” the information states.

The phone booth was adopted by the Jack Jones, Mike Jones, Charles Oliver and Jay Mills families.

Another room, adopted by Juanita and Charles Price, will display handwork, quilts, crochet and arts and crafts.

A major museum attraction is dedicated to people who have served, whether in politics, the military, the community, the state or nation.

It features a collection of Yarborough memorabilia given to the library, where it was first displayed starting in 1997. Over the years, the collection grew into the Chandler history collection and also includes many items from veterans, Ms. Berthoff said.

The Yarborough collection starts with his early childhood home, his political history, his accomplishments as a U.S. senator and as Texas attorney general and his service after he left the Senate when he became very proactive for libraries and was a member of the state library board.

A flag in the Yarborough collection with 49 stars was flown briefly in 1959. There is also a wood carving of the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker done by James Eddleman in honor of Yarborough’s work to preserve the Big Thicket.

The veteran’s section includes items from the Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War, conflicts in the Middle East and other wars. It spotlights local citizen Jim Ellis, who was a World War II prisoner of war.

In the days when the Yarborough family occupied the house, the room now called the kitchen was known as the milk and butter room because Ms. Yarborough churned there using milk from dairy cows on their farmland and sold fresh milk and butter to the community.