“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for years and years,” Marilyn Lehnis of San Antonio said Friday. “This is why they collected things all those years.”
Martin and Frances Lehnis didn’t live long enough to see how their train collection legacy is being put on display for the public, but their daughter-in-law, Marilyn, and other relatives were on hand for the grand opening of the Great State of Texas Transportation Museum featuring the Martin and Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum.
The Friday morning ceremony at the facility built especially for this purpose is open to the public, free of charge, today and Sunday as part of the Brownwood Reunion Celebration. It’s located at Adams Street and Washington, across from the historic Santa Fe Depot and Harvey House. Hours will be from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“We are here to celebrate a significant day for our city, for our sister cities in the area and the entire state,” Brownwood Mayor Bert Massey said at the dedication ceremony.
Massey related how he and the City of Brownwood became involved in the creation of the museum and how the project ultimately involved the then largest such grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for the building’s construction after the Lehnis family chose to donate to the city the railroad items they had spent more than 60 years gathering.
“This is an extremely valuable collection,” Massey said. “It is estimated to be worth over $2 million, and in addition to the Santa Fe, it includes items from dozens of different railroads. The Santa Fe Railroad is a particularly fine collection.”
Massey said the collection is so vast, the museum will be able to constantly build exhibits, which will encourage repeat visits.
The mayor also recognized the volunteers who worked with the Lehnis family and the City of Brownwood to make the museum as reality, including Mary Marshall Holley, Kay Leipzig and Debbie Morelock, and also thanked dozens of volunteers who have worked hundreds of hours with Curator Mary Irving to make its opening this weekend possible. The museum also showcases railroad collectibles provided from others in the community.
“What we see around us is only the beginning of a museum complex and entertainment area that will make this a city of destination,” Massey said. “The complex will run from the Depot to the Brownwood Coliseum.”
He thanked retired City Manager Gary Butts, previous city councils and others who, he said, recognized how important such an area can be to the city.
Lynn Passmore, district engineer of the Brownwood office of TxDOT, expressed his appreciation to staff members who worked on the grant that made the construction possible. Waldrop Construction was the general contractor.
“The history of railroading was very important to him, and he wanted it to be carried on,” Marilyn Lehnis said after the ceremony. “This makes that possible.”
She called how passersby would stop at the Martin and Frances Lehnis home on U.S. Highway 183 south of Early where the railroad cars and other items were kept for decades.
“People would stop and pull in to ask about the collection,” Marilyn Lehnis said. “He would talk and talk.”
The couple’s daughter-in-law was recognized at the ceremony along with sister-in-law Joyce Wyatt of Brownwood, and several nieces and nephews from as far as Orange, LaMarque, Baytown and Houston.
“We have so many things coming in the future,” Irving said. “The Lehnis collection is so famous. I was talking to someone in Houston, and he immediately recognized the name. He asked what had become of his collection, and now he’s planning a visit.”
“We’ve been waiting for this day,” Marilyn Lehnis said. “And it’s just starting. This is a big step.”
Charter memberships in the Martin and Frances Lehnis are available at varying levels, Irving said. During this weekend, several other museums in the county have booths inside the transportation complex.
Martin Lehnis, who died Feb. 23, 2005, at the age of 89, moved here in 1950. He was a lifelong railroader. He and Georgia Frances Barlett were married in 1941 in Santa Anna.