Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New look DeQuincy museum ready to host festival

A few days late - so put it on your calendar for next year!

From Sulphur Faily News: New look DeQuincy museum ready to host festival

DEQUINCY — If it is the second week of April, then it must be time for DeQuincy’s Louisiana Railroad Days Festival.

For almost three decades, the city has celebrated its railway heritage with the DeQuincy Railroad Museum as its centerpiece. And after recently completing a bit of renovation and reorganization, the museum is ready to reacquaint festival goers and enthusiasts alike with their “new face.” “The museum is a reflection of the history of DeQuincy from its beginnings in 1897 and its growth from the railroads. The building itself is the most important one historically in DeQuincy. We are very proud of what we have done [with the updates],” said Gary Cooper, former DeQuincy mayor and current President of the DeQuincy Railroad Museum Board of Directors.

The project began in 2009, when the museum received a grant of $3,528 from the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana, giving them a chance to inventory the museum’s artifacts and to upgrade and expand the presentation of them.

The museum board matched the funds, giving the organization a total of $7,056 for their project. Faced with a massive number of artifacts, mostly donated by area residents along with items from the railroad industry and visitors, the museum culled through their stock, moving non railway-related items to the newly restored DeQuincy Town Hall Museum.

Seeking professional assistance in order to refresh their display, the board hired, in 2010, McNeese State University Department of Visual Arts Chair Lynn Reynolds, along with two MSU students, Lydia Powers and Devin Morgan, for help in upgrading and expanding the presentation. In September 2010, the museum then brought in Port Arthur, Texas resident and railroad historian Les McMahen to finish the reorganization. For nearly a year, he catalogued and arranged artifacts, expanding the area of presentation. He matched artifacts with records, labeling each and producing identification and information cards. McMahen’s extensive work can be found in each of the new display areas and in the placards of information located throughout the museum.

“He was very professional,” said Cooper of McMahen. “He made sure everything was historically accurate.” Along with the reorganization, the museum also received a facelift on the outside when the building’s exterior was painted. The city, as the official owner of the building after having bought it from Kansas City Railroad in 1974 for $1, paid for that project.

Inside, the museum used their own funding to do some upkeep as well, painting the large waiting room, as well as installing new ceiling fans. The former baggage room, which had long been used for storage, was cleared of all debris and a number of large artifacts and tools have been arranged along the perimeter and on the walls. Cooper states that the museum plans to paint the entrance room (formerly the small waiting room) and the middle room (the former operations hub of the depot) over the next couple of years. “We plan on painting one room at a time in January, since painting usually eliminates the use of a room for several weeks. January is our slowest time for visitors,” he stated.

The 1947 Pullman passenger car located outside the building is also being restored with the city providing the primary funds. According to Cooper, that ongoing project has been going on for about a year and should be completed soon. The car, which was once used as a cocktail lounge in Lake Charles, was donated to the museum in the 1980s.

One new addition that has attracted a lot of attention is the working model train layout located in the middle room. For 29 years, members of the East Texas & Gulf Rail Modelers Association have come to the museum at festival time to set up model train displays for festival goers. It is an extremely popular exhibit. Last year, the museum board approached the group asking if they could build a year-round display for the museum. From scratch, four men built the working display, which features buildings named after former or current businesses in DeQuincy, within four months. Visitors are invited to press the diesel horn and steam whistle buttons as the train goes around the track.

“It is wonderful for children. In fact, it is for kids of all ages,” said Cooper.

The group will also again set up their model trains for festival goers this year.

“The trains will run Friday and Saturday all day. It will be elbow-to-elbow in here. This place will be a madhouse on Saturday,” said Cooper.

The museum is ready for the influx of festival goers. Even before festival time, part-time employees Katherine “Katy” Haley and Mary Jane Barberry have seen an upswing in the number of people coming through the doors.

“Last year we saw about 8,000 visitors for the year,” said Cooper. “Since the renovation was completed, and through news, advertisement and social media exposure, the last two or three months has seen our visitation doubled.”

They still charge no admission. However, anyone is welcome to put a donation into one of the little red cabooses scattered throughout the displays.

“We are nonprofit. No admission is charged. We are able to operate from donations. We have been very fortunate. We have had grants from the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana, the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, Union Pacific and Kansas City railroads, and the Tunica-Biloxi tribe,” said Cooper.

Pursuing additional grant funds is part of the museum’s short term goals, added Cooper. The board also has some other projects in mind as well.

“We also intend to repaint the old steam engine outside and the old cabooses. We would also like to replace the chain link fence,” said the board president.

The board is proud of the reorganization and looks forward to festival goers seeing the “new” museum. “The evolution has been a result of community involvement. It is a community treasure,” said Cooper. “Its success is due to the community and to volunteers,” he added.

The museum is housed in the 1923 Kansas City Southern Railway Depot (a Mission Revival-style building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) located at 400 Lake Charles Avenue in DeQuincy. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday.

The Louisiana Railroad Days Festival runs from April 12-April 14. For more information on the festival, contact Evalin Hester at 337-786-8241.

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