A decade-long project reached its conclusion Friday with area residents celebrating the Martin and Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum’s latest exhibit ‘Tracking Progress.’
The exhibit details Brown County’s extensive history with railroad transportation, from the installation of the first passenger line in 1885, the opening of the Santa Fe Train Depot in 1910 to the final departure of a passenger train in 1968 and beyond.
“Frank Hilton started doing this research several years ago,” Rick Phelps, museum board president, said. “He was looking through the books, going through the court house. He literally used every resource there was available to him to try and get this information. Obviously, it had to be fact-checked so we could make sure everything was correct. This start over a decade ago and it’s done now, finally. He may not show it, but he’s really excited about it.”
Phelps said the primary motivating factor for getting the exhibit underway after so many years was recently hired curator Crystal Stanley. Stanley said creating the ‘Tracking Progress’ exhibit was one of the projects on her desk on her first day as curator last October.
“We were luck enough Beverly (Norris), our previous curator, requested a wall exhibit as a capital item,” Stanley said. “The city council, they are big supporters of the projects we do and they approved that. As soon as I came on I thought, we have to make this awesome, where the community could come in and relate to it.”
Looking to make an immediate impact on the 11-year-old museum, and using Hilton’s extensive research, Stanley contacted ASAP Creative Arts Director Jonathan Dunlap. They then worked to create a visual exhibit, which provided a visually pleasing presentation while also providing enough details to give an accurate representation of the impact railroads in Brown County.
“Originally, we looked at another timeline a museum did and it was a lot of acrylic and overlaying on the wall and a lot of lines,” Stanley said. “I talked to Jonathan Dunlap at ASAP and I said ‘I want to take this concept and make it simpler. He said, ‘We can do that.’ We did a lot of measuring to make sure we got the spacing right. I said ‘We have this much space to work with. Let’s make sure the font is easy to read. We tested a couple of different fonts. This was not the first I picked out, but it was the easiest to read and made the most sense.”
As the dozens in attendance filed through the sun-drenched hallway reading the timeline descriptions and sharing their own railroad experiences, clad in denim jeans and vest and sporting a conductor-styled cap, Hilton looked on. For him, the unveiling meant an end to 10 years researching documentation that, thanks to volunteers with the Brown County Library Local History and Genealogy Department, may have been lost with time.
“The more people that can see the history of Brownwood, the better off you are for preserving it. If you write a book or a family history and you’re the only one that has the book, then it’s going to disappear. If you have 100 people that have it, then it’s liable to stay around for a long time,” Hilton said.