By Landan Kuhlmann
If you want to see how history has treated Fort Bend County and play a hand (technologically) in its development, the soon-to-be revamped Fort Bend Museum might be the place to go.
On Dec. 2, the museum at 500 Houston St. in Richmond broke ground on construction for a $2 million expansion and renovation dubbed “History Rising,” which has been funded by donations from community members and organizations around the county as well as individual donors over the last two years.
Since 1967, the museum has attempted to tell the county’s origin story, which began with the settling of Stephen F. Austin’s colony in the early 1800s. Rogers said the museum’s current building was outdated, and the county’s growth to more than 800,000 diverse residents has necessitated adding another chapter to the history books.
“While that is still the story, our county has gotten so diverse that we wanted the exhibits to reflect the history of all the groups that have come to Fort Bend County,” said Claire Rogers with the Fort Bend History Association, which owns the museum. “So that’s our intent with this project.”
As part of the renovation, the museum is adding 1,800 square feet to its exhibit gallery to make it about 3,000 square feet, according to Rogers. She said the gallery space will be revamped with new or upgraded exhibits, while the old space will be renovated for new exhibits and office space.
Rogers said several exhibits have been made portable so they can be moved in the event of eventual large group activities, provided COVID-19 has passed. There will also be more interactive exhibits added to the repertoire, such as one in which community members can add magnetic puzzle pieces to an interactive map of the county showing its evolution, with each different piece changing the map.
The renovated exhibit space will also be a “smell” station where museum-goers will be able to experience the true smell of sulphur, an homage to the multiple sulfur mines located in the county. Others are also in the process of being upgraded.
“It’s hard to do that within 3,000 square feet,” Rogers said. “But we think we can make a pretty good stab at it.”
Rogers acknowledged that a COVID-19 world is a tough environment in which to introduce such things, but that the museum won’t be deterred from its mission of telling the county’s story moving forward – even if it must be done in an unorthodox manner for now.
“Everybody used to want to have lots of hands-on things that are manipulative and can be moved or shifted. The attempt is always to be as hands-on as possible. They’re not hugely high-tech, but they are manipulative and interactive and easily cleaned,” she said. “Right now this is a very difficult time to be introducing hands-on activities, so we want to make sure they’re reasonable for the guests coming now to keep them safe and engaged.”
Rogers said the goal is to have a grand opening for the renovated space in May of next year. For more information and a scope of the project, visit fortbendmuseum.org/historyrising.html.