After Harvey, one year later: Refugio County Museum staff pauses past to preserve future

REFUGIO, Texas – The damage from Hurricane Harvey has threatened business owners, homeowners and some of the history in Refugio County. 

While the artifacts inside the museum reflect the decades of change Refugio County has felt, some of the exhibits also extend beyond the borders of the county. 

"The state of Texas, I don't think, realizes the importance of Refugio in Texas history," Refugio County museum director Bart Wales explained. 

Wales remembers waiting out the storm in his home last year. He recalls hearing sheets of metal flying behind his home, leaving him feeling unnerved. He says some of his windows were boarded up, but he was prepared. 

"I had my electric screwdriver, a box of screws and my pistol. So I was ready for anything," Wales said. 

Two days after the storm, Wales was able to get to the museum. 

Several exhibits outside took a beating, including the old jail from Tivoli, Texas. The building had just received a new roof. After Harvey, that was pretty much the only piece of the building left intact. A home from the 1870s that sits on the property was also hit hard. 

"It was a classic example and there aren't any of those examples in Refugio anymore," Wales said. 

When Wales walked into the museum, there was more damage to be uncovered. 

"I opened the door and there was water all over the floor. I think we ended up with 3 inches of water around the floor here," Wales said.

Damage to the roof had allowed water to leak in. Some of that water ended up on several pieces of historical clothing, providing a breeding ground for mold. 

"We have a collection of clothing that belonged to the great-granddaughter of James Power who was the empresario that developed or populated Refugio County with Irish," Wales said. 

A pair of shoes from the 1800s, a Marine uniform and a piece of Broadway that ended up in the museum were damaged. 

"There was also a lady from Bayside who was very generous when we opened this building. She had purchased a hat that was used by Carol Channing and Pearl Baily in the stage presentation of 'Hello Dolly,'" Wales said. 

The clothing was packaged and placed in a freezer to protect the clothing from further damage. 

"It’s supposed to keep the mold and mildew and everything from doing anything else to it. It just kind of holds everything where it is," Wales explained. 

Wales hopes the pause on the past will buy more time for the museum to get the funding needed for conservation. The museum was able to secure a $5,000 grant from Humanities Texas. The museum is now waiting to see if it will be awarded a grant of as much as $27,000 from the National Endowment of Humanities.

The museum is a time capsule full of items like a mission bell that has ties to San Antonio.

"It was actually done for another mission, but that mission was closed out of El Paso. It's been everywhere. It was at Mission Bolero, which is The Alamo, then it was brought here to Refugio," Wales said. 

While San Antonio is on a world stage for its missions, Wales says Refugio was the site of the last mission established in Texas. A model of that mission now sits in the museum after a road paved over the place where the sacred building once stood. 

Wales wants people to remember that the small communities of Texas hold a lot of history. Some of those small communities may have helped the big cities become what they are today. 

Wales recalls one moment in history involving Sam Houston, the man recognized with winning Texas' independence from Mexico after the battle of San Jacinto. 

Sam Houston was elected to be a representative from Refugio to the convention that wanted to make Texas an independent country. He may not have been involved if it hadn't been for Refugio.​

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