'Saving pieces of Brown County history'

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
From left, Jane Rodgers, Beverly Norris and Wanda Ferguson are pictured near the entrance of the Brown County Museum of History.

Brownwood Bulletin editor emeritus Gene Deason recalled trying to learn the history of a topic — he doesn’t remember what — in another town, and he was referred to a facility that was “kind of a museum.”

“They had very little,” Deason said. “They did have some materials but it was not catalogued. It was not something that someone would come from out of town to look at.”

Deason told the anecdote during a recent visit to the Brown County Museum of History, which had a grand reopening in late May after being shuttered for 14 months because of COVID.

 “What Brown County residents may not realize is, through the years, amateur historians or just residents have been very intentional about recording history and saving pieces of Brown County history for almost a century and a half now,” Deason said.

“Many communities do not have the type of facility or the type of resources in history

The history museum is a “rather unusual” offering for a community the size of Brownwood, Deason added.

The museum, at 212 N. Broadway, operates with one paid staff member and a number of volunteers. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Jane Rodgers is a member of the museum’s board of directors and a volunteer. Beverly Norris is the museum’s event coordinator and vice president of its board of directors.

The hope is to “grow” the museum and increase the number of days it’s open — but that would take more funding than the museum currently has available, Rodgers and Norris said.

““As a relative newcomer to Brownwood — five years — it seems to me that most people don’t understand how the museum is funded,” Rodgers said. “I think a lot of people think we have some great (funding) source.

“The county does give us some money and the city does give us some money. We depend on grants. We depend on admissions and donations and fundraisers. My heart is that people would understand the importance of the museum, but we don’t have a wellspring of funds."

Norris said some people assume the museum is totally funded by the county because the words Brown County are in the museum’s official name.

According to a museum fact sheet:

The museum opened in 1983 with exhibits and tours of the 1903-era Old Jail, which had closed after a new jail was built.

The creation of the museum was the vision of local businessman Pat Coursey, who saw the need to save the historic Old Jail from destruction.

A museum group was formed and was able to purchase the 8,000-square-foot building across the street from the Old Jail with donated funds, and began to collect items from the community.

Even large items such as the one-room schoolhouse and a log cabin were placed in the building, which for a time was known as the museum annex, but is not he museum’s main building.

If the museum had not been there, enormous portions of Brown County history would have been lost, the fact sheet states.

During the 14-month COVID shutdown, the museum was refurbished and new exhibits were added.

Rodgers’ husband, Mike, is the chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration at Howard Payne University.

Jane Rodgers taught English and history in private and public schools before retiring.

 “As a retired history teacher and English teacher and a current journalist, I appreciate the value of history,” Rodgers said. “I enjoyed my visits to the Brown County Museum. I love history. They wanted some help coordinating some of the educational programs that we offer, and one thing led to the other, and I got on the board.

Rodgers said it’s not necessary to be a history buff to appreciate the Brown County Museum of History.

 “Absolutely not,” Rodgers said. “You just have to have some curiosity about the place you live. I’ve learned a lot about Brownwood here and Brown County.”

Norris said about a third of the museum’s visitors are from out of town. “Even through Brown County is in our name, some things played out on the national stage like Camp Bowie, and of course events involving native Americans and pioneers," Norris said.

“We have exhibits that are specific here but the museum is of interest to anyone. You don’t have to live here to be interested.”

Wanda Ferguson, who has been the museum’s director since 2014, is preparing to step down.

 “I get a kick out of visitors when they come in,” Ferguson said. “They just ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and they’re just so surprised that a town this size has got such a fantastic museum. And of course our Old Jail is an eye-catcher and I get a lot of good comments about that.”

 Exhibits in the main building include:

• Native Americans: the first people of Brown County

• Guns of the frontier

• 1800’s log cabin

• Barbed wire and fence cutting wars

• Pioneer life on the Texas frontier

• The land we love: ranching in Brown County

• First black school

• Printing press from 1920

• Medical history of the early 19th century

 • All that jazz: Radios and pianos of the 1920s and ‘30s • The kid’s zone: hands-on activities for all ages

 • Miniature circus

• Paleontology and amazing fossils of Brown County

• World War II and Camp Bowie

• Mural from Camp Bowie and the German P.O.W.s, currently being restored

• 1950s and ‘60s: how the world changed after World War II

• Mr. Mallouf’s boot shop — maker of find hand-made boots

• Brownwood booms: banks and business

• When the men were gone: the true story of Tylene Wilson, woman football coach Exhibits in the Old Jail include

: • Sheriff’s family living quarters

 • Pioneer peace officers

 • Forensics room (opening in the fall of 2021)

• Bootleggers and prohibition

• Original 1930s jail cells