The Fort Bend History Association got its start 52 years ago as an auxiliary branch of the Fort Bend County Historical Commission.
Today the nonprofit organization tasked with preserving Fort Bend County’s history is preparing for its future. On Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6 p.m. the Fort Bend History Association will hold its annual meeting at the Fort Bend Museum, 500 Houston St., Richmond, where it will formally announce a $2 million fundraising campaign to remodel and expand the museum.
“It’s literally the biggest undertaking of the organization since its inception,” said board President Tim Kaminski. “It’s exciting and challenging all at the same time. The first 50 years was setting the foundation and the next 50 years is about presentation of the history that we have and making sure that everybody is represented.”
Recently, Kaminski and Executive Director Claire Rogers spoke about the museum and the organization, their history and their future. The association got its start in 1967 as the Fort Bend County Museum Association.
“The association was started as an offshoot of the Fort Bend Historical Commission as a way to be able to take in collections from the county; be able to raise money to start something like the museum. That was back in 1967,” Kaminski said. “It pretty much operated in that vein as the Fort Bend County Museum Association up until two years ago.
“Right before the 50th anniversary we went through a whole rebranding process. Part of that was to make it more distinct in that all though there’s all these different museums that have come up in the county, we weren’t an association of museums. Everybody operates individually. We changed the name to the Fort Bend History Association to be more inclusive of what we do across the county – from operating the county museum to operating Decker Park in Richmond, to operating all the educational programming that happens at the George Ranch and the programming at the Dew House which is in Kitty Hollow Park.
“These were all things that the general public was not aware that we were responsible for, that we maintain. That’s been part of our efforts over the last two years with the name change and going into our next 50 years is helping the public understand the vast array of what we do from preservation to education and then trying to get more people be involved in what we do,” he said.
The need for a museum remodel and expansion is twofold. One, there isn’t nearly enough space to exhibit even a fraction of the artifacts in the museum’s collection. Secondly, there was a fire last year that damaged part of the building. Although no artifacts were lost, there are repairs that need to be made to the facility.
“The artifacts that you’re seeing here displayed have been here since the early 1980s, but in the entire collection there’s over 40,000 items and most of those items have not been seen by the public before,” said Kaminski. “Those are stored out at the Quonset hut out at George Ranch. Part of the goal is to get more of the collection displayed for the public and to have more cases and things to be able to rotate things in and out more frequently.”
“In the new exhibit space, we want things to be more flexible. So, we have those permanent pieces but we also have some moveable pieces and items that can be changed out or areas that can be redone,” Rogers added.
Flexibility is a big part of the design.
“It’s going to be a unique design in the sense that everything in the middle of the museum is going to be constructed in a way that for events it can be pushed off and into the side walls to open up the middle space for anywhere from 150 to 170 people so you can have a bridal reception with a sit-down dinner or you can have a community event and still be able to be exposed to all of the exhibits,” Kaminski said. “There’s really no other museum setup like that in the area, so we hope that’s going to be a unique feature to this location.”
One of their goals is to make more of the exhibits interactive so guests can have a hands-on experience.
“We’re hoping to raise $2 million. That’s the goal,” Rogers said. “Half of that will be for the actual building itself. We have an extension that’s going toward Fifth Street. The entrance of the building will be shifted from the middle of this building to the end so that the entrance will be on the same street that you’re looking at the Moore Home.
“That will contain the gift shop area, the bathrooms, the costume closet, the catering/break room, that sort of spaces. Then where the current building starts is where the exhibit section will start and that will flow to about halfway down here and then the offices will be in the back.
“So, the plan is to raise a million dollars for the building itself and then another million will cover the exhibits that need to go within the space to have interactive exhibits. That’s about $400 a square foot, so when you have almost 3,000 square foot to work with, we’ll put money into about 2,000 square foot of it to have exhibits fleshed out and then the other 750 square foot will be the temporary gallery, so we won’t need to flesh it out. It will have continually rotating exhibits in that space,” she said. “We plan in 2019 to raise the money and in 2020 to do all the construction.”
“Within that there’s going to be naming opportunities for the permanent exhibits, the lobby, the entrance, different parts of the building, so as we’re raising money people that are passionate about history and passionate about the area have the opportunity to have certain areas identified with their name with their donation,” added Kaminski.
Rogers said the key to the association’s future is to expand its focus beyond the European settlers of the county.
“We’re also trying to be more culturally diverse and get more people from different areas, not just geographically but different cultural groups in the county as well,” she said.
Kaminski said that for the last 50 years the lion’s share of the local history they have been presenting centered around the George and Moore families.
“But with all the cultural diversity out here, there was a conscious effort so say we’re going to go in another direction now,” he said. “So, going forward more of the stories of the other people that helped settle the area and what were those impacts, part of that obviously is going to be through the plantations and who was actually there, who lived there and what was their contributions and what happened after that. So that’s the direction we’re in right now.”
One of the first things the association is doing is hosting a black cowboy rodeo on Feb. 16 at George Ranch Historical Park.
“In February and March there will be an exhibit on African-American churches in Fort Bend County, many of them over 100 years old and what has been their impact on that culture in Fort Bend County,” Rogers said. “We have several pastors very excited about this. They’re bringing things in and sharing their history with us.”
Rogers said she was talking recently with representatives from a firm working on a design proposal for the museum and they noted that the story of Fort Bend County is the story of immigrants.
“He said Fort Bend is a county of immigrants of diversity and you want to tell that immigration story all the way from the beginning,” Rogers said. “The Czechs came, the Germans came, Vietnamese, Indian, a whole bunch of people have come. How do we represent their stories within a county museum?”
The Fort Bend History Association has also been intentional about recruiting board members of different ethnicities and from different areas of the county.
“We’ve diversified the board significantly in the last two years,” Kaminski said. “When the organization started it was very Richmond-Rosenberg centric because that’s where the museum was located. We’ve effectively reached out to all different parts of the county.”
Not only is Fort Bend County one of the most diverse counties in the nation, it is also one of the fastest growing. That means there are a lot of people moving in here who know nothing about local history. There are also those who have grown up here who are unaware of their past.
“The biggest strength of this organization is the educational programs from the Texas history that’s specific to Texas in general to things that are so specific that you can only find them in Fort Bend County,” Kaminski said. “That’s what I want the public to be aware of. These programs are ongoing and they change throughout the year.”
(Editor’s note: Those Were the Days is an ongoing series about the history of Fort Bend County that runs each month with a fifth Wednesday.)
1967: The Fort Bend County Museum Association is chartered.
1968: Judge John Moore gives the association the land on block 89 in downtown Richmond.
1972: The Fort Bend Museum opens.
1975: The museum acquires the 1883 Moore Home and the Fort Bend Museum Docent Society is formed.
1977: The Association acquires Decker Park in Richmond.
1985: The George Foundation asks the association to develop educational programs at the George Ranch Historical Park. The Junior Docent program begins.
1988: The George Ranch Historical Park opens.
1991: The association is one of only three Houston-area museums to receive full accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.
1993: The Fort Bend Archeological Society has its first meeting.
2006: The historic Dew House is moved to Kitty Hollow Park, and the association is contracted to guide the refurbishment of the home.
2011: The Dew House opens for tours.
2017: The association celebrates its 50th anniversary and rebrands itself as the Fort Bend History Association.