Depot museum planners ask public for artifacts
Now that the city of Pearland has authorized $500,000 to re-purpose the historic Sante Fe Railroad Depot into a museum and tourist attraction, project organizers are encouraging residents to donate artifacts that help tell the history of the railroad and the community.
The Citizens Advisory Committee to Restore the Pearland Depot has put out a call for items related either to the depot itself or to the Santa Fe Railroad in general, committee chairman Donald Hayes said. The group is interested in items from any point during the depot’s operation from 1900-1972 near Main Street or after the building was donated to the city and moved to 3519 Liberty Drive in 1980, where it for a time served as the office for the Pearland Chamber of Commerce.
“I’d be most interested in artifacts — things that railway workers used in their trade,” Hayes said. “Railway signage, uniforms, a handcar, etc. A hidden part of Pearland’s history is that the fig industry sustained the town for a period of time in the early 20th century. Fig canning was big around here, at least until oil was discovered nearby. I’d love to have some relics of that industry as well, to be able to support the telling of that story.”
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The plan is for the depot — a wooden building that has sat vacant since 2008, to become a Pearland-focused museum that displays community — and railroad-related artifacts and exhibits and that hosts events and educational activities. Plans include new restrooms and retail space and installation of an enclosed lobby.
The $900,000 project also would provide event space to accommodate 100 people. Also planned are a catering kitchen and storage space, and a paved patio would go near the adjacent caboose.
The city’s pledge of $500,000, included in the city’s recently approved budget, will use revenue from hotel and occupancy taxes. In the works is a fund-raising effort to help cover the remaining costs through donations and grants. A request for $100,000 has been given to the Pearland Economic Corp., a nonprofit group primarily funded by a half-cent city sales tax.
Construction is extended to start in June and be completed by the end of 2019.
Chance to tell a town’s history
The Pearland Historical Society has a number of old photographs, newspaper clippings and documents related to the town’s history. Some of those will likely be included in an exhibition, Hayes said.
“We have things like a station master’s cap, a Santa Fe railway schedule, some tickets, a banana messenger’s booklet, a railway pass for the widow of a conductor and an actual iron railway switch,” Hayes said. “We also have a developing list of names of local railroad employees, and we’ll be attempting to reach out to those folks directly in the near future.”
Donation of old photos and documents are welcome, though the museum could be limited in how much it accepts because of the cost and work involved in storing and maintaining them, Hayes said.
The committee also is seeking information or stories related to the depot that could be included in the exhibits as recorded interviews gathered in collaboration with students from the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Pearland campus.
“I’d love to integrate some personal interviews into the presentation, if technology allows for it,” Hayes said.
“Candidates for certain degrees may be able to lend us their perspectives on curation and exhibition, as a part of their degree studies,” he said.
Thom Trahan, the executive director of Brimstone Museum in Sulphur, La., is an adviser on the Pearland Depot project, Hayes said.
Hayes sees the 1915 railway building that houses the Louisiana museum as similar to the Pearland structure because the buildings are of comparable dimensions and have both been moved twice. Brimstone is being run full-time by the nonprofit Brimstone Historical Society.
“If you take a look at their Facebook page, you can see how they’ve made excellent use of wall space to showcase their town’s timeline and left room for both artifacts as well as visitor traffic,” Hayes said of the museum.
Recognized by the Texas Historical Commission, the 125-year-old Pearland train stop was a major hub of activity during its operation. Starting in 1894, it welcomed many new settlers coming to the new community from across the country.
The project is a joint effort between the committee, Pearland’s historical society and the Pearland Convention and Visitors Bureau. The fundraising subcommittee of the Restore the Pearland Depot Committee is still looking for someone to lead it, Hayes said.
He said most spots have been filled on the other two subcommittees, programming and community engagement, but that volunteers and corporate sponsors would be welcomed.
The goal for the depot facility to become become self-sustaining and to generate revenue, according to a project plan document.
“We’ll continue to represent the project at public events throughout the fall, leading into the city’s 125th anniversary in 2019,” said Hayes, who hopes the museum can be operational by the fourth quarter of next year. “It’s actually an incredible chance for us to dove-tail with the city’s year-long celebration.”
Support from the son of last station master
One person with a keen interest in the plans is The Beaumont Enterprise’s editor, Ronnie Crocker, who grew up in Pearland, where his late father Bill was the depot’s last station manager.
In 2016, Ronnie Crocker wrote a letter of support to the Pearland Historical Society urging efforts to restore the old building, saying that old depots make provide fitting museum spaces.
“The familiar architecture triggers fond memories and connects us to the past,” Crocker wrote in the letter. “Even those who never boarded a passenger train understand the vital role the railroads played in the nation’s early growth.”
Bill Crocker died a few years ago, and his son has kept a number of items from the railroad such as calendars the company produced every year. Ronnie Crocker said he would be willing to donate materials for the museum.
Crocker has fond boyhood memories of spending much free time at the station with his dad, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad for 45 years after starting right out of high school.
“It was a big wooden building with wood floors and a sawdusty smell to it. It was just a fun place to explore all the nooks and crannies — there were old lanterns and equipment,” Crocker said of the depot. “He would give me a clipboard and ask me to go down and write the identifying numbers on the railcars to get me out of his hair. It was a neat place.”