O’field district plans to open Cormier museums
“This is really hard to describe to somebody,” says Orangefield Superintendent Philip Welch, standing in one of two Paul Cormier museums recently bought by the school district.
“We’re very excited about it. The possibilities are endless.”
Last week, an initial meeting about future operations took place to see how the district can turn the museums into a money-making enterprise.
Those attending included Welch, school board member Wanda Woods, former school board member Ronnie Hutchison and former Orangefield Superintendent Robert Montagne.
The opening is still a long way off. “When we do it, we want to do it right,” Welch says.
Along with the museums, which have never opened to the public, the district bought 20 acres of surrounding Cormier land. The property runs east of the high school band hall and baseball field to the newest Bobcat Trails addition; ending near Orangefield First Baptist Church.
“A lot of this [memorabilia] tries to represent what Orangefield looked like in the ‘20s,” Welch says. “It also has a lot of personal items donated from people in the community. Being that Mr. Cormier is in poor health, he hasn’t really been able to do anything with it. We’re looking at some type of means to have it open on a limited basis.”
To call retired oil man Cormier “a collector” would be an understatement. There is one wall with car and truck models, another with toy planes. Another section includes dolls, cash registers, rifles, swords, pump organs and wood stoves.
Other displays have old telephones, cameras, American presidential items, Elvis posters, a framed copy of the Orangefield Progress newspaper, memories of Cormier’s 1950s skating rink and cafe (at the corner of Farm Roads 408 and 105); a brick facade from the original Orangefield school, a mechanical department store pony and Sinclair Gasoline signs.
“What’s going to be interesting are those who lived during those times, and will be able to relate to these items with an intensity only they can know,” Welch says.
The extra land purchase – the 20 acres – is a way of looking to the future, he says.
“What the board wanted to do with that was just to have it. We may need a fourth campus some day. We’ve been counting about 10 to 15 [additional students] a year. But this year we counted about 60, and that was before [Hurricane Ike]. We can probably handle about 400 more using our current facilities.”
Voters passed an $11.5 million bond issue for the district in 2003. “All that money has been spent,” he says.
Cormier, 89, began collecting the items in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, says his son Bobby Cormier.
“Some of it obviously relates to the oilfield industry, but a lot of it doesn’t,” he says. “My father always had it in his heart to do this with the first building, and then the second building; and put it all together.
Bobby Cormier oversees Cormier Well Services, the Orange Oilfield Supply Store and other family interests. Paul Cormier and his wife Jewel, who passed away several years ago, had three children.
The community developed around an oilfield discovered in 1913, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. As was common with boomtowns in the ‘20s, a post office, hotel and several restaurants developed there. The post office is still there, but not in the original location.
The Orangefield population was estimated at about 1,000 in the mid-’30s, but had dropped to around 500 by the early ‘50s.