The fate of the Heritage History Museum has been decided. The historic building will be demolished. 

“We’re not sure when it’s going to be torn down,” said Joyce Atkins, board president of the Heritage House Association of Orange County Inc. “We’re looking at March.”

The Texas Historical Commission has to be notified of the board’s intentions, and the request has to be processed, because of the building’s historical status. Atkins said it takes a lot to get historical recognition, so the commission has to be notified every time any changes are made.

It’s slightly ironic; the organization that saved it from destruction will be forced to bring it down. The association acquired the building from the city of Orange for $1 in the ‘80s. It had been donated to the city, but wasn’t needed. The Woodmen of the World building, which housed the old Duhon Furniture Store in the ‘60s, would have been torn down by the city if the organization hadn’t purchased it. The association had to pay to have the building moved to its present location on Division Avenue.

All three of the buildings of Heritage House were damaged during Ike, but the building that housed the museum was “twisted counterclockwise,” making it no longer safe according to a structural engineer. It also received about three feet of salt water which ruined many books, pictures and artifacts that were housed in the lower part of show cases and around the floor.

Atkins estimates 25 to 30 percent of the artifacts were lost to raising water. Some things were salvaged such as vintage clothes that were on manikins. “We could wash them, most of it was cotton. Other items we sent to the cleaners,” she said. Pictures that were hung on the wall were saved also.

They have received many calls from people that donated items through the years, to see if their artifacts were salvageable.

The museum had been closed about two years after Rita. According to Atkins, it had re-opened, “Almost one year to the day, of Ike.”

“It was beautiful, we had all our showcases filled – the complete history of Orange, from Indians to the petrochemical industry. It was history on the move,” she said.

Their office has been repaired and is open 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. The organization’s main focus right now, is “… to get the Heritage House back up and open,” said Atkins.
They are shooting for the end of February or the first of March.
Atkins said they have to repair some of the floors and are waiting on rugs and some other items ordered to come in.

She really praised Chuck Dilts and Air Comfort in Beaumont. They had to completely replace all the heating and cooling systems in the three-story Sims house. “They were excellent,” she said. “They were very careful going in and out of the house and were extremely nice.” She said there aren’t a lot of companies that will work on historical houses and she highly recommended them. The cost of the replacement was a little under $40,000.

They plan to host a grand re-opening when the house is finished. “We’re going to do it up right,” said Atkins.

In the meantime, they are keeping busy bringing history to the people since the buildings are closed. Recently they carried a “Trunk Show” to Orangefield Elementary and introduced 121 first-graders to Indian artifacts and other historical items.

The Heritage board hopes to get regular activities back underway, such as the Past Times celebration where they show kids what life was like years ago, such as how they churned butter or washed clothes.

There will be a major fundraiser in late summer or early fall. It will take a large amount of money for renovations, but they are trying to give the area some time to recover from the hurricane before asking for donations. “Everyone needs help right now,” she said.

Historical donations of any kind are being accepted to replace exhibits lost to Ike. Especially desirable are items with the known history or background. “We always like to recognize families,” she said.

As an example; a donated wedding dress is really great if there are pictures of the person in the dress provided  along with its story – a family Bible with background information such as, “My great-uncle Charlie carried this in the Civil War.”

It’s not clear yet what will be done to replace the museum. They may try to buy another old home, or if a new building has to be built, they may try to salvage the facade of the Woodmen building. One thing is for certain, “We ARE going to build another history museum,” said Atkins. “My board of directors is in agreement.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.