HARLINGEN — Nobody expects history to run fast.
After nearly five years of work, the Historical Museum located on the grounds of the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum is beginning to take final shape, with more than 40 exhibits planned covering Valley history from ranching and agriculture to early Harlingen businesses to education and even fashion.
A presentation on the eventual exhibits to be displayed, delivered by Joel Humphries, the city’s arts and entertainment director on Wednesday, is the first in-depth public look at the result of years of planning and the building’s renovation.
“We began in earnest in, I believe it was, November of 2015,” Humphries said in an interview following a meeting of the museum board. “We have been at it about five years. And most of it we have done through funds that we have raised on our own. Time is money. So when you don’t have money, it takes more time.
“This is a milestone,” he added. “We’re about 80 percent complete, the end is in sight, and we’re excited about it.”
The Historical Museum is one of four additional structures on the museum grounds which include the original home of Harlingen’s founder, Lon C. Hill, the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn and Harlingen’s first hospital.
The Historical Museum was formerly the brig of Harlingen Air Force Base and has housed a permanent collection of Harlingen and Texas historical objects and photos, although for years it has been used mostly for storage and has been unavailable to the public
Now those items and more are being readied for display in a cataloging of both Harlingen and the Valley’s past.
The layout of the museum has been completely overhauled, and Humphries ran through the extensive list of exhibits planned for the building’s grand unveiling, which he expects in April 2020.
A large part of the museum display area will be taken up recalling the earliest economic activities in the area, ranching and farming.
One will display the history of the city’s founder Hill, another one the mesquite fencing used by early ranchers, and others will recount the Valley’s early cotton gins.
One of the gems of the early cotton boom in the Valley has been captured in an early cotton bale scale which has been restored and will be part of the display.
Also among the displays will be the early history of sugar mills in the region and the evolution of Valley agriculture with the addition of citrus.
The Port of Harlingen will be represented in a display which features a reproduction of a miniature model of a dredge, donated by the George Adams family. The model was fashioned by one of the workers during the Works Progress Administration, known as the WPA, between 1939 and 1943.
Early businesses like the Holsum Bakery have a display, along with HEB.
Humphries said the timetable for the museum will accelerate next week with the first deliveries of the platforms and panels the museum had constructed to create the displays.
In mid-December the museum’s progress will be advanced enough to allow city officials and experts to tour it, and any corrections or additions to the exhibits will be made prior to its expected opening to the public in April.