PALESTINE — A treasure-trove of history is preserved in the Museum for East Texas Culture, which will soon observe its 30th anniversary.
Standing majestically at the top of a hill in Reagan Park, it is probably the only museum in the state that has a full-sized log house sitting inside, Director Dan Dyer said.
The museum also has many exhibits, collections and displays of historical interest in a broad range of fields, including medicine, railroading, the Caddo Indians, firefighting and police, education, business, manufacturing and industry, and a room that depicts the life of John H. Reagan, the Palestine resident who served as postmaster general of the Confederacy.
The museum will host an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday to celebrate its opening during the Dogwood Trails festival in 1982. Refreshments will be served for the come-and-go affair and the museum will be open for tours at no charge.
Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children younger than 12.
“We are probably the cheapest entertainment in town,” Dyer said.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 pm. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Funds to support the museum are generated by fundraising events, including a rummage sale twice a year and a Christmas marketplace featuring vendors. The museum also receives income from membership fees, rental of the auditorium and donations.
Every room, and even the hallways, are filled with memorabilia and artifacts pertaining to different historical subjects and eras. The auditorium has an ornate stage and good acoustics.
Displayed in the back of the auditorium is a turn of the century bank teller’s cage.
Nowadays the auditorium is the site of reunions, wedding parties, a dulcimer festival, dances, dinners and other special events.
The museum exhibits are spread through an imposing building constructed in 1914-15 that originally was the old Palestine High School. Later it served as a junior high and then as an elementary school.
The school was closed in 1976, and the building sat empty for several years. During that time, the building was vandalized and deteriorated into terrible shape, Dyer said.
The city, which owns the building, had a contract with a company to tear it down until a group of former students and residents, called the Committee to Save Reagan School, banded together in a bid to save the nostalgic structure.
The Campaign to Save Reagan School began slowly with bumper stickers, according to the history of the museum.
Supporters talked the city out of tearing the old school down and allowing it to be turned into a multi-purpose community facility.
The restoration would take a few years. Broken windows were replaced; there was painting, plastering and other work to restore the building. Several civic organizations and many individuals volunteered to assist.
Most of the space was designated as a museum and the top floor for art. When the restored structure opened, it was named the John H. Reagan Memorial Center. In about 1987, the name was changed to Museum for East Texas Culture.
Visitors can discover a wealth of artifacts and exhibits. For example, the Knox Glass Room displays assorted glass pieces produced at the Know Glass Manufacturing Co. in Palestine, which was in business from the 1930s until the 1980s.
Information and pictures about Palestine Police Department collected by retired Detective Charles Steen are displayed in a room designated as a police museum.
Another room is dedicated to railroads. A real segment of track and a model train are among the railroad memorabilia displayed. Palestine became a boom town and began to grow when railroads came through town in the 1870s, Dyer said. There is a room dedicated to historic homes and buildings. It shows an 1885 city map and pictures of the town taken more than 100 years ago.
Another room strictly features black history. Among the many other varied displays is a collection of antique cameras and light meters, old surveyors’ equipment, a reconstructed medical office, items from a pharmacy, an early print shop, a barber shop, and a replica of an optometrist office.
There is even an iron lung that was used to care for polio victims when polio was rampant. Another display honors the seven astronauts killed when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated across East Texas upon entering the earth’s atmosphere 10 years ago.