WCHS

HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM

Origins of the Museum The origin of the Wise County Heritage Museum traces back to a meeting in 1891 of the Northwest Texas Baptist Association that founded the Northwest Texas Baptist College, a four-year institution in Decatur. The first classes (1892 – 93 sessions) were held in the Cates Opera House located on East Main Street- just east of the town square. Land for this site was purchased through real estate agent C. D. Cates of Decatur. Twenty local Wise County men pledged $1,000 each (plus other smaller pledges and donations from other individuals) to guarantee the debts of the new school. 1891

Northwest Texas Baptist College The building was constructed of limestone quarried from the local area. The architect was W. A. Cann Architectural Co. of Wichita Falls, Texas and design was Victorian. An original construction contract was awarded in February 1892, to S. C. Kilgore of Denison in the amount of $20,855 with construction to be completed by September. Construction began, but a later contract was awarded to Ferrier Bros. and Wirz of Seymour in May of 1892 in the amount of $24,575 to be completed “at once”. The new building was opened for the fall semester of 1893 with 149 students. The institution’s first president was Dr. A. J. Emerson who served for four years until the school went bankrupt in 1896 and the creditors looked to the guarantors for payment of the outstanding debts. 1892-1896

Becoming Decatur Baptist College The following year, the Texas Baptist Convention bought the property and formed Decatur Baptist College - the first planned junior college in the world. DBC was a preparatory school for Baylor University in Waco and taught many young people in preparing for church service along with other areas of study.. Dr. J.L. Ward served as President of DBC for 2 separate terms totaling 44 years. The last president of Decatur Baptist College was Dr. Otis Strickland. 1897-1965

Closing of the Campus After over 67 years in Decatur, the school was moved to Dallas in 1965 where it became Dallas Baptist College. It has now grown into Dallas Baptist University. After the school moved to Dallas, a local businessman, Coke L. Gage, purchased the entire Decatur Campus in hopes of bringing another college to the town. When this failed, he donated the former Administration building and just over one acre of land to the Wise County Historical Society, Inc. to be used as a county museum. It housed one of the best family research facilities in the area alongside the museum exhibits and an auditorium. 1965-1966

Restoration and Upkeep Restoration of the building started in 1967 and was ongoing for many years. There were many fundraising activities through the years, such as the annual Wise County Fall Out talent show, the monthly Gospel Opry program, and an annual Ron Hammer Gospel Concert. These activities along with the generous support of many former DBC/DBU students and faculty members and many other folks with ties to Wise County have helped us make the Wise County Heritage Museum one of the best in Texas. 1967-2022

Fire of March 2023 Burns down the Museum Sadly the many years of work was all lost in March of 2023 when a fire destroyed the entire building and all it’s contents. It was a devastating loss to the entire County. However, activity of preserving Wise County’s past remains our main goal and the Wise County Historical Society, Inc. and the Wise County Historical Commission continue to help educate citizens and visitors about Wise County history, DBC history, and the history of the Lost Battalion through exhibits, and presentations. Members attend conferences to study and work to keep the preservation of local history alive. 2023

Remaining Exhibits check_circle Old Wise County jail cell check_circle Old jail door and Artifacts While much was lost in the fire, much outside the building itself survived. We have also been able to recover a number of things from the rubble which we have been diligently working to preserve and restore. Exhibits arrow_right check_circle Restored Woody Cabin What Survived check_circle Antique farm equipment display check_circle Various recovered artifacts, books, and documents

First Floor highlight_off 1890s funeral coach highlight_off Fossil exhibits of the Museum The first floor had a wide range of exhibits, including a picture gallery and the research center. While most of the first floor was lost, almost all of the research center and family archives had been digitized prior to the fire. highlight_off Household furnishings What Was Lost highlight_off Family archive library and research/reading room highlight_off Picture Gallery highlight_off DBC exhibits highlight_off Mercantile display highlight_off Tool/machinery display

Second Floor highlight_off Dressing room area highlight_off Lost Battalion Room of the Museum The second floor housed the auditorium and the Lost Battalion Room. A number of artifacts from the Lost Battalion Room have been recovered and are being restored. What Was Lost highlight_off Auditorium

Third Floor highlight_off Sam Sampler military room highlight_off One room schoolhouse of the Museum The third floor of the museum had a number of rooms with a variety of exhibits. Some small objects have been recovered from third-floor displays, such as content from the sewing room. highlight_off General store display What Was Lost highlight_off Firefighting exhibit highlight_off Dairy equipment display highlight_off Train display highlight_off Courthouse display highlight_off Sewing room display

Help us preserve local history. DONATE Members are the core of the Wise County Historical Society. For only $20 a year you can become a member and help us keep local history alive. You'll also receive our monthly newsletter, early notice of events, and other benefits! JOIN As a nonprofit organization, we primarily rely on donations from individuals and businesses. Any donation, large or small, is appreciated and will be used to help us preserve history and educate the community about our shared past. VOLUNTEER Our volunteers are what keep us going. We are always looking for people willing to help with a variety of tasks, including lawn care, office filing, staffing events, and many other things. If you would like to help out please reach out by clicking below! DONATE MEMBERSHIP VOLUNTEER We can't do it alone. With the tragic loss of the Wise County Heritage Museum building in 2023, we need your help more than ever. We continue to move forward and are working to restore the site to house important local artifacts and historical documents. Fortunately, there are many ways you can support us in this effort.