EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a three-story package about the Texarkana Museums System's 50th anniversary. See today's Accent section on Page 1E for a look back at the last 50 years for the TMS, then rejoin us the following Sunday for the final installment in Accent.
TEXARKANA, Texas — This year the Texarkana Museums System celebrates an important milestone: 50 years of preserving and exploring Texarkana history.
This juncture provides an opportunity to not only reflect on the past, but also look ahead to see where the Museums System is headed with programming and four downtown properties, which collectively strive to capture the unique place Texarkana's heritage has in the world.
Velvet Cool, the TMS board president, says the TMS aims to use advances in technology to make history more easily available to the public than it has been in the past.
"We really want the community to understand the magnitude of our collection, both physical objects and ephemera, which would be your paper objects," Cool said. "We have some very unique items that exist in the care of the Texarkana Museums System, and we are working to be able to share those things with the public."
The TMS recently acquired about 5,000 slides that represent the history of Texarkana people who were responsible for attending chamber of commerce events, she said. They date back as far as the 1930s.
"We also have a lot of oral histories. We are working with a local organization to acquire some television footage that would be very inclusive," Cool said, "and we also have these very fascinating McCartney scrapbooks. The McCartney scrapbooks, as far as we know, are the only copies of some of the Gate City News clippings, the 1870s to the 1880s. Mr. McCartney, who built the hotel, he would sit down and read the newspaper and he would clip out articles that he thought were interesting."
Cool said McCartney placed them in scrapbook — one scrapbook per year — for the first decade of Texarkana's history, using the 1873 sale of city lots as the established date. As she's been told, McCartney aimed to write a historical fiction book.
"This was his research into that," Cool said, adding about the scrapbooks, "Because they are 150 years old, not even I've had the opportunity to look at them."
Cool said the TMS wants to scan them in their entirety and publish them. "We'll probably supplement them with a synopsis of the history of Texarkana at the time and some supplemental information on how we acquired them and what our mission is," she said. "And some additional photographs that we can scrounge up from that era."
They envision a coffee table book, hopefully to be ready by Texarkana's sesquicentennial.
The TMS properties are, in a sense, part of the historical treasure trove the nonprofit organization looks after: the Museum of Regional History, Ace of Clubs House, P.J. Ahern Home and Discovery Place Interactive Museum.
The Ahern Home is open and needs routine maintenance like any historic home, Cool said, with funds generally available for such through the Ahern family. For the Ace of Clubs, the TMS awaits word at the end of May to see if Texas Preservation Trust Fund money becomes available.
"We are working with some organizations, particularly out at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, to bring the awareness of what is needed at the Ace of Clubs House to the attention of some local groups," Cool said.
As to the work needed there, this includes drainage, plaster, woodworking, windows, roofing (full or partial), painting and the installation of climate and humidity controls.
Discovery Place improvements (painting and installing carpet) have been slowed because of COVID-19. That building has yet to reopen. The carpeting is the main need to be addressed. It's labor intensive work to the tune of $30,000, Cool said.
"For the Museum of Regional History, it's open to the public. We are in the planning phases for some renovations because we anticipate creating a music heritage committee that will be staffed by some very familiar names to the music history of Texarkana," Cool said. "And by staffed, I mean they'll be volunteers on this committee."
They plan to expand on what's available at the Beasley music center exhibit and also expand with music-themed events.
As well, the TMS has community partner volunteers working on further digitizing the archives. They're helping to build a proper database, Cool said. One volunteer is scanning oversized blueprints, for example.
"We're finding good resources through our community partners," Cool said. "There has to be a very careful mix between preservation and accessibility."
Jeff Brown has served on the TMS board for several years. He believes one high priority is taking care of the properties, doing repairs as needed.
"The Ace of Clubs has a lot of things that we want to do. To me that's a high priority, but also getting as many people involved. We want to as membership make more people aware of what's there, the history in the Ace of Clubs House, the Ahern House, the Caddo things that we have at the Museum of Regional History, plus all of the other Texarkana things," Brown said.
They've just started a project that could include taking care of classical composer Conlon Nancarrow's items. Nancarrow's music stamped him as a genius. "For us to potentially be the caretakers of part of his legacy I think is super exciting," Brown said.
Ragtime great Scott Joplin is featured at the TMS and its Museum of Regional History, too. "I think we're fortunate to have two such geniuses from Texarkana," Brown said.
Then there's the Ace of Clubs, a place that provides a sense of how people lived at certain times in Texarkana history.
"I think it brings a sense of our history and overview a little more in-depth of how things used to be, and some of what's here and has been here. We're able to have some different educational programs about all different kinds of things. (TMS Curator) Jamie Simmons is a wonderful teacher, and then we've had some other people that have given programs and done different things," Brown said. "I think the education part makes the museum system very relevant."
Also relevant are personal connections to Texarkana history. They help drive Cool in doing her job.
Cool says that once she became a board member, the dedication of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar school archives inspired her.
"That was something that was made possible through funding from TISD (Texarkana Independent School District), which we're extremely glad that they recognized the importance of capturing the history of that school," Cool said.
The TMS worked with the school on an exhibit.
Attending the opening, Cool saw the place where her mother attended school, back before desegregation. "My mother was the last of her siblings to graduate from Dunbar, and I had recently lost my mother," she said. The school is also behind her grandmother's home, where she spent much of her childhood.
"It was just such an overwhelmingly emotional event for me that I knew I had found the nonprofit I was meant to find," Cool said of this personal connection to preserving history.