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2013-12-26

Frontier Times Museum expansion

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Despite a ripple of reluctance on the part of some elected officials, Bandera City Council agreed to convey municipal property on 12th Street to the Frontier Times Museum for a proposed historical renovation project. The undertaking will eventually include restoration of the 1881 Bandera County Jail and 1868 courthouse, as well as relocation of two other historical buildings to the complex.

During the Thursday, Dec. 12, city council meeting, George Sharman, president of the museum's board of trustees; Executive Director Rebecca Norton; Bandera County Historical Commission Chairman Roy Dugosh; and historian Dave Burell made persuasive arguments for donation of the land at the end of 12th Street. Currently, the virtually unusable plot is vacant.

The museum expansion includes an 1887 farmhouse from East Texas to serve as a visitors' center with offices, gift shop and restrooms and act as a gateway to the complex. Additionally, the former Dug Spring School will be moved to the site and renovated. The original one-room school is reminiscent of those once found throughout Bandera County.

Joint efforts by the Frontier Times Museum and the historical commission would also include renovations of both the old jail and courthouse. The old jail, which Sharman described as "the most architecturally perfect building in the county," would eventually house a Frontier Justice Museum and a reconstructed original cellblock. Until June 2010, the building served as headquarters for the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District.

Plans for the old courthouse include archival storage on the upper floor for early Bandera County records, documents and photographs. The ground floor would become a historical research center for scholars, genealogists and the public with display space for local nonprofits such as the Bandera County Sister City Partnership, the Western Trail Association and the Bandera Music History Project Hall of Fame. Until recently, justices of the peace offices were in the old courthouse.

"This would be a good move on the part of the city and county," Dugosh said. "All citizens will be proud of this. Bandera is coming of age and needs to move forward."

According to Sharman, the Texas Historical Commission is working with the museum and historical commission on the ambitious project.

Norton noted that the complex would create a cultural corridor in Bandera linking the Frontier Times Museum with St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Western Trail Park on Main Street and the 11th Street Historical District.

Originally, museum trustees wanted the city to lease the property to the nonprofit for 99 years at one dollar per year. However, municipal attorney Monte Akers saw some problems with that arrangement - mainly that a long-term lease would be equivalent to a sale and could be challenged by a third party.

He advocated either a shorter lease or simple conveyance of the property to the museum as long as it were used for the public good. "If not, the property would revert back to the city," Akers said.

Speaking about Dug Springs School, Burrel told council that it would be demolished if the museum doesn't take possession of it. "It's the only remaining stone school in the Hill Country," he said, adding, "This will be a boon for Bandera."

To Mayor Don Clark's query about parking at the historical complex, Sharman explained, "We plan to build a rock wall at the back of the property to develop a courtyard.
There will be no parking in front of the jail and courthouse."

Commenting further on the museum's request, Clark asked, "Didn't (the city) give up property on Cottonwood and later regret it?" He also noted, "I'm not against this, but didn't we refuse other entities' requests?" At some point, apparently the Boys & Girls Club of Bandera County had been denied the use of city property at 7th Street near club headquarters.

Calling the museum's proffered drawings "pretty sketchy," Councilman Jim Hannah requested more detailed ones prior to council making a decision.

"We intend to offer more detailed information," Sharman said, "but we need to know what the city feels about this project and our request for the street before investing money in better drawings."

When the council offered him a consensus opinion rather than actually voting on the request, Sharman continued, "Our goal is to get an okay that will give us the momentum to go forward, do the plans and come up with finances. It's going to cost $400,000 to move the schoolhouse to city property. We want something on the record so we can go forward and apply for grants to renovate the jail and courthouse."

Eventually, council approved conveying the property to the museum with the proviso it would revert back to the city if plans were not carried out.

"We'll bring architectural drawings back to the city within six months," Sharman promised.