When it comes to uncovering the profound stories of Harrison County’s families and communities, the Harrison County Historical Museum’s Inez Hatley Hughes Research and Collection Center has it all covered.

The center, also known as the “museum library”, is home to a vast collection of rare artifacts, historical documents, genealogical information and more.

“The goal of the research center is to house, archive, and preserve the collection of documents, maps, historical publications, and artifacts donated by individuals interested in preserving Harrison County History,” said museum executive director, Becky Palmer.

“The collection is made up of a variety of historical and family documents as well as artifacts of all sizes that give us a glimpse into our county’s history,” she added.

As the gateway to Texas during westward expansion, many families settled in the county for years, before relocating. Thus, the research library has served as a great aid and invaluable gem for genealogists and those seeking to discover more about their ancestors.

“If your family journeyed through our county and stayed a few years we may be able to assist in tracing your roots,” said Palmer. “If you are a student creating a history project or paper on our area, we can help. If you are searching for long lost relatives, we could be your source.

“We have requests from all over Texas and other parts of the country for information on families and our East Texas history,” said Palmer.

The research center’s database is organized by people and places in Harrison County. The museum’s “Places in the Heart” exhibit, in particular, highlights these communities by using the collection to showcase the people and places in the local and surrounding areas. Currently, the history of Harleton is spotlighted.

“We have information related to all areas of our county and northeast Texas,” said Palmer. “We are in the process of making the database available online and hope to be up and ready within the next six months. This will allow researchers to search for information before interacting with one of our research volunteers.”

HEART AND SOUL

The researchers are the heart and soul of the center, assisting guests where needed. Volunteers include Jessie Snowden, Steve Horton, Bob Graves, Bill T. Whitis and Janet Cook.

“Volunteers’ roles include assisting researchers both in person, by phone or online; maintaining the database entering new donations by linking them to the people and places they represent,” she advised.

Additional duties include organizing and filing artifacts and documents. In addition to volunteers, the research center is also manned by two staff members, as needed.

Staff members are: administrative assistant Tina McGuffin and Palmer as executive director. Palmer noted that museum members, board of directors, volunteers and donors all make up the Harrison County Historical Society.

“The Harrison County Historical Society is the Museum,” she said. “We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit doing business as The Harrison County Historical Museum.”

A PERMANENT HOME

Finding a permanent home for the research center was all a part of the museum’s growth plan.

“In 2018, the museum board of directors began phase three of our growth plan,” said Palmer. “Phase three was to find the collection a permanent home owned by the museum and under our control.”

The museum’s collection had been moved several times since moving out of the 1901 historic county courthouse in 2000. Since 2008, the collection had been in the basement of the former Memorial City Hall, now named Memorial City Hall Performance Center.

As renovations to Memorial City Hall began, the collection moved to a temporary site in the former police station located on Fulton Street.

Needing more space to store its historical compilations — including letters of wartime, school scrapbooks, family photos, newspaper clippings and more — the museum board made it its mission to find a more spacious, permanent home.

“In December 2017, the museum received a seed grant from The Jonesville Foundation for a permanent home for Inez Hatley Hughes History Research Center,” shared Palmer.

In January 2018, the board of directors appointed a task force to search for a permanent home for the collection.

“With Ann Brannon as chairman, the committee included members: Gail Beil, Jean Birmingham, Jay Ebarb, Steve Flohr, Gerald Gibson, Robert Graves, William Hatfield, Rose Mary Magrill, Carla Nolan, Wendy Newman, Harold Raines, and Daryl Ware,” noted Palmer.

The objective of the task force was to prepare a broad, general recommendation on a facility to be presented to the museum board.

“The recommendation included these topics: uses and size of building with general amount of space allocated to each use; existing building or new construction; preferred general location of building; and priorities,” Palmer recalled.

In April 2018, the task force held a visioning workshop, offering the public a chance to give input on the permanent location. From there, the task force prepared a recommendation for moving forward and a summary plan for the new facility.

Following the plan’s approval on April 24, 2018, the task force began scouting the perfect building. A monetary bequest from Aimee Hope (Baker) Emmert estate helped secure the current location, the former Palace Cleaners building.

“In February 2018, the museum received a $100,000 bequest from Aimee Hope (Baker) Emmert estate,” Palmer shared. “The board decided to use these funds for the purchase of the research center.

“Board member, Gail Beil arranged to obtain the former Palace Cleaners building, located at 400 South Washington Ave., from owners Kenneth and Celia Carlile, and the building was purchased,” said Palmer. “The remainder of the building, at 102-104 East Travis, was donated by the owners.”

The research center staff and volunteers spent last year happily settling into the new home. The doors to the new facility opened to the public in March 2020.

“The Inez Hatley Hughes Research Center and the Collection make all permanent, rotating, and traveling exhibitions within our spaces possible,” said Palmer.

FUTURE EXPANSION

The executive director said they have filled the majority of space available in the present building, but have plans for further expansion in the future as they continue to collect artifacts.

“The collection is continually growing,” said Palmer. “We are accepting donations related to our county and its history through deed of gift weekly, and all donations must come through museum staff at our 1901 Courthouse offices.

“Space within the research center is at a premium and with the idea of expansion in the same location the museum has acquired, through donation, the lot south of the building for future expansion,” she added. “This is phase four of our growth plan and will be necessary within the next few years as we have filled the majority of space available in the present building.”

To meet the growing needs, the museum board is currently in the process of securing the necessary funding to complete the expansion. Palmer said they welcome all monetary donations, large or small, to help with this endeavor.

“We welcome all donations towards our phase four goals no matter the size and would like to thank our members and donors who make these phased projects possible,” said Palmer.

“We are a small museum that has recently tripled in size, and as such we are adjusting to the added expenses presented by our growing pains,” she added. “Acquiring the necessary funds to begin such an expansion will take more time and planning, but this is a large part of our growth plan going forward.”

Palmer noted the museum’s mission is one of historical education for children and adults and the source of our information is the collection along with the help of other historical organizations.

“We are proud to be the recipient of the John L. Nau, III Award for Excellence in Museums from the Texas Historical Commission, and are continuing to plan and reach for higher goals in order to fulfill our mission of becoming the best small museum in East Texas,” she said.

Hours of operation for the Inez Hatley Hughes Research and Collection Center are: Tuesday and Thursday by appointment only; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday; and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. Appointments can be made by calling the museum office at 903-935-8417, extension 1.

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