TALE OF THE TRAIL: Cuero's new museum eyeing share of heritage tourism market

The Pythias Hall in downtown Cuero will soon house the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum.
  • TRAIL DEBATE

    The Chisholm Trail was an important route used by cattlemen driving Longhorns to northern markets. While many disagree on the name of the trail and what it was called at various points, one thing is certain, cattlemen drove ...

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  • TRAIL DEBATE

    The Chisholm Trail was an important route used by cattlemen driving Longhorns to northern markets. While many disagree on the name of the trail and what it was called at various points, one thing is certain, cattlemen drove herds out of Texas and on to northern markets.

    The Chisholm Trail has been known by various names, including:

    The Abilene Trail

    The Cattle Trail

    The Eastern Trail

    The Greater Texas Cattle Trail

    The Kansas Trail

    McCoy's Trail

    SOURCE: Texas Historical CommissionNAMING RIGHTS

    Naming rights are still available for rooms in the historic building and the Annex. Names will be displayed on commemorative plaques, and will become a permanent part of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum. It's a way to show your family's support for the museum or to create a prominent place of recognition for your ranch or business.

    The naming rights for the former recreational room on the second floor of the historic building have been purchased by the Blackwell family, the first naming rights awarded in the museum.

    Naming rights are available now for community rooms and exhibit spaces, as well as areas in the new annex. Contact any board member or board chairman Robert Oliver at buckaroo@chisholmtrailmuseum.org to take advantage of this first-come, first-served opportunity to show your support.

    BIG BUCKS

    The Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum project has received some substantial grants and other financial awards:

    $1 million from the Economic Development Administration

    $345,000 from Save America's Treasures.

    $125,000 from the Cuero Development Corporation.

    $100,000 from H-E-B.

    Matching funds were required with some of the grants.

    ONLINE

    To learn more about the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum go to www.victoriaadvocate.com and click on the link.

CUERO - Robert Oliver says he is just one pair of eyes sharing the same vision with many others.

That vision starts with a scene from more than 140 years ago as Thornton Chisholm slips on his boots that April 1 morning in 1866 to lead a cattle drive from Cuero along the Chisholm Trail to St. Joseph. Mo.

Thirty men joined Chisholm that day as they moved Crockett Cardwell's herd of 1,800 to market. A Texas Historical Commission marker four miles north of Cuero on U.S. Highway 183 marks the start of the trail drive near Cardwell Flats.

That vision comes into focus almost a century and half later as construction continues on the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero, a tribute to the efforts of all the cowboys who rode the trail and to the cattle and ranching industry.

Oliver, chairman of the museum's board of directors and one of the driving forces behind the project, recalled when the idea for the museum germinated.

"I was involved with the Cuero Heritage Museum in the late 1990s. I began hearing about a group wanting to put an agriculture and ranching museum together, but it never got off the ground," Oliver said. "We, about a dozen of us, met and talked about the feasibility of doing a project like this.

"We didn't have a name. We didn't have a mission statement," Oliver said, adding the group did not meet regularly in 2000.

In 2001 the group got more organized, actually choosing another name, but were later encouraged to use Cuero's Chisholm Trail involvement in naming the museum, Oliver said.

He was pleasantly surprised when finding out the Chisholm Trail name was still available for the museum.

"We had our first major fundraiser in the fall of 2002 and every year it's developed further," Oliver said. "To me it's like talking about a child. I'm not the person to ask about how good this project is."

Current commitments to the museum include Texana furniture, 19th century store ledgers, early Texas maps, photographs, saddles, spurs, chaps, wagons and other cowboy memorabilia.

Oliver noted that the museum project "caught the attention" of the federal government, both the Save America's Treasures program and the Economic Development Administration.

"That's not an easy thing to accomplish," he said.

THE BUILDING

The museum's downtown Cuero home, the historic Knights of Pythias Hall, was built about 1903 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The historic building will be fully restored and the annex fully operational including an elevator," Oliver said. "We had to provide lots of infrastructure improvements around the building."

Landscaping and parking is in the next and final phase.

In addition to the museum itself, the second floor of the hall is being transformed into community meeting rooms. The second floor, about 7,000 square feet, will include three large meeting rooms, a modern caterer's kitchen and modern restroom facilities.

The Cuero Development Corporation helped fund the second-floor renovations.

"The museum's second floor will fulfill a need Cuero has for state-of-the-art meeting space," said Shelley Pennell, executive director of the Cuero Development Corporation.

"Cuero would like to increase the number of events which bring in outside visitors to our community as well as allow for larger audiences. The museum's space will allow Cuero to market for seminars, meetings and small conferences."

The CDC has spent $125,000 on the project.

Oliver noted, too, that the project could spur additional renovations.

"Cuero has about two dozen buildings just like this one where the opportunity is right in front of us to have a public library, lofts, all sorts of alternative reuse for these structures," Oliver said.

"We're hoping the renovation and restoration of this building is going to be a catalyst for additional restoration projects."

The second floor multi-purpose room could be available for rent as early as the first quarter of 2010. The museum is expected to open later next year.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Asked why the organizers have such faith in the potential tourist draw of the museum project, Oliver said, "Planning. It's all in the planning. Also, it's a national story, not just a local or regional story. Our story is of national significance."

Museum organizers hope to take advantage of curious tourists.

Heritage tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry and Texas ranks second in the nation in the number of cultural and heritage travelers visiting the state, said Debbi Head of the Texas Historical Commission.

"Heritage tourism can successfully help preserve resources while boosting local economies by generating jobs, new businesses and tax dollars," Head said. "Texas ranks second in the nation in the number of cultural and heritage travelers visiting the state. The opportunity for travelers to discover Texas has never been greater."

Pennell agreed that the museum will be a tourist draw for Cuero. Also in Cuero's favor is its location along the new national historic trail, El Camino Real de los Tejas, and within the Texas Independence Trail Region.

"Heritage tourism is a fast - growing segment for travelers. The wild west, cowboys, trail rides, chuck wagons, are all a fascinating part our of culture," Pennell said. "The museum will use technology, innovation and creativity to capture audience attention while teaching them at the same time."

Head also said the Chisholm Trail name is an attraction in itself.

"Facilities like the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum will attract visitors to Cuero and the surrounding area," Head said. "The mystique of the historic Chisholm Trail will come alive for future generations and invite travelers from near and far to learn more about the real stories of Texas."