Thousands of visitors journey through our prestigious Wharton County Historical Museum each year ... or at least they did prior to the horrific Hurricane Harvey flooding back in August 2017.
Sadly, the county museum has remained closed since those record-breaking floodwaters surged out of the banks of Baughman Slough, bringing 10 inches of river water into the buildings and amongst the precious artifacts.
Today’s column provides an update on the status and proposed reconstruction of the Wharton County Historical Museum.
The good news is commissioners court has budgeted $300,000 for the renovation of the structures and the Wharton County Museum Board has informally agreed to fund remaining overages.
With money in hand, time lines and construction preparations should begin in early 2020.
The first step forward is planned for Nov. 25 when commissioners court anticipates entering into a professional services agreement with Cutright and Allen for architectural design and project oversight of the entire complex renovation. It is hoped the entire project restoration will be complete by year’s end of 2020.
A little History: It is my understanding that back in the spring of 1989, two separate groups were operating museums in the City of Wharton.
In a plan to consolidate efforts, the M.G and Lillie A. Johnson Foundation deeded the Johnson family residence, their prized wild animal exhibit and the building sheltering it, and the surrounding nine acres of land to Wharton County for the purpose of housing a single Wharton County Historical Museum.
Again, the Johnson Foundation’s ultimate goal was for the city, museums and residents of Wharton to consolidate their artifacts and efforts into the one incredible gallery located at the town’s northeastern edge off North Richmond Road.
The Johnson Foundation also provided $50,000 to convert the family residence into a museum and contributed another $50,000 to be held in trust believing the annually accrued interest would fund all future maintenance and operations.
Through the years, four additional structures were adjoined to the family residence and wildlife exhibit hall: a large central exhibit hall connecting the original two structures; a 50’x 50’ metal warehouse; the Texas Gulf Exhibit Hall; and the most recent 20th Century Technology Museum.
Post Hurricane Harvey: Soon after the floodwaters receded, the museum board and county officials worked feverishly to dry out and preserve the artifacts.
Thankfully most of the animals and precious pictures were hung high enough on the walls avoiding direct contact with river water, but the threat of hidden microscopic mold spores was an immediate concern.
Commissioners court contracted with Jarvis Property Restoration, a disaster recovery team, to muck out the structures and make sure all mold was remediated.
Once finished, an air quality control test was ordered and the county received a report that the building was safe for daily operations.
Regardless, the museum board and county officials remain attentive and continue to monitor the possibility of lingering dormant mold.
Next Steps: Once the engineering and structural designs are reworked, the entire construction project should bid out this coming April.
In the interim, there will be a call for volunteers to help relocate some of the existing artifacts so contractors can move freely about the complex and complete their reconstruction tasks in a safe and expeditious manner.
Area residents and museum supporters will be invited to participate in a variety of important fundraisers, possibly the return of The Gourmet Guys, to assist the museum board in restoring the many precious exhibits to pre-flood staging.
For those who have never visited, the Wharton County Historical Museum is filled with eye-popping fun facts, exhibits and interesting antiquities that enlighten and help us better understand the times and adventures of those early pioneers who first settled Spanish Camp, Egypt and the more modern settlements of Boling, East Bernard, Louise, Wharton and El Campo. There are pictures and uniforms of storied athletes, inventors, developers, and war heroes. The Wharton County Historical Museum has so much to see ... something for everyone.
As your county judge, my primary objective continues to be preparing Wharton County for the future while always maintaining our unique small-town way of life.