Where the local past comes alive…Heritage Center puts Rusk’s stories front and center

by Cristin Parker
Courtesy Photo
The Mabry family reunion group visited the museum recently and got to see the photo that is displayed in the Military Hall of Honor of their beloved Captain Donald Mabry, who died in the Viet Nam war. Courtesy Photo
The Mabry family reunion group visited the museum recently and got to see the photo that is displayed in the Military Hall of Honor of their beloved Captain Donald Mabry, who died in the Viet Nam war.

It’s not every day that regular schmoes get to donate something of historical value for posterity, but all those exhibits at the Smithsonian, the Natural History Museum and even our local museums, had to come from someone, right?

And thanks to the Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Rusk folks are getting the chance to make their histories come alive!

Center Curator Betty Marcontell is asking Rusk residents who grew up here in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, to help her continue capturing the area’s legacy and stories, as only those who lived them can tell.

“I’ve done some terrific interviews already, and these interviews are already available to listen to in the Commerce exhibit, which features the history of the Rusk square,” Marcontell said. “If you want to tell your personal stories about growing up and going to school here in Rusk during this time period, or if you have old photos of the square that the museum can have copies of or artifacts such as items from Moseley’s Drug Store or other businesses, please call me, (903) 714-8685.”

The Heritage Center is proud to share the rich history of Cherokee County, all the way through the 1960s and present date.

According to Marcontell, the museum exhibits – 13 in all – tell the history of Cherokee County with many one-of-a-kind artifacts, rare items, oral history with slide shows and documents and photos dating back to the late 1890s, and features three hand-made dioramas that children and miniaturists especially seem to enjoy.

“The biggest diorama is a representation of Cherokee County buildings in the 1890s, with a train moving around the county display,” Marcontell said. “The kids really seem to enjoy that one. Next door to the museum building is the old Bonner Bank, the first bank building in Cherokee County, built in 1884 – a great place to take a picture here on the grounds of the museum or photo opportunities inside as part of an exhibit.”

The newest exhibit offered at the museum is a pictorial and written history of “Defending the Texas Coast during the Civil War,” that features several artifacts from that period.
“The “Pioneers of Cherokee” exhibit has also been upgraded with the look of a log cabin made out of felt,” Marcontell said. “Pioneer pictures dating back to the 1890s to early 1900s are featured in the windows of the log cabin.”

The Center is also on a mission to acquire, preserve and display artifacts of historical importance to the Forest Trail Region of Cherokee County.

“Exhibits include an interpretive display of the local timber industry, artifacts on the Civil War and WWII, objects that once belonged to former Texas Gov. Jim Hogg, and extensive collection of arrowheads and Caddo Indian artifacts gathered from the area, and the bread delivery box of driver M.M. Troublefield from Rusk’s Betty Lue Bread City Bakery,” the Texas Forest Trails Region website states. The Texas Heritage Trails Program is the Texas Historical Commission award-winning heritage tourism initiative, whose mission is to promote and support East Texas as an integral part of the Texas experience for residents and travelers.

“People from around the state and the country that are traveling through Rusk have found the museum through great reviews on Trip Advisor and through the museum’s Facebook page – Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Texas,” Marcontell said. “They all comment that this is the “best small-town museum they have seen – so much to take in.”
The Center works in association with the Cherokee County Historical Commission in preserving the county’s history as well as its pre-statehood past.

“Someone on the train from Palestine told us we should see the Cherokee Heritage Center in Rusk,” Skip Kilmer of Carrollton said in a review of the Center found at tripadvisor.com. “We got there 45 minutes before it closed and asked whether we would have enough time to see it. Betty said she would stay open until we had seen it all. She then gave us a fascinating lecture-tour. The museum is divided into several sections, by emphasis, and she did most of the selection and arrangement for each. The first section contains a model of old Rusk, complete with several historic buildings, and Betty told us it took her a month to build. She is a person steeped in East Texas history and seemingly related to everyone in town. Well worth the visit!”

Sam H, of Jacksonville, also provided a review at the website, “As the former chairman of a city museum in Jacksonville, I commend touring the Cherokee County Heritage Center in Rusk. The museum director, Mrs. Betty Marcontell, has fashioned attractive and interesting displays are that are truly award worthy. The creative display of the historic Rusk Prison that has been converted into a state psychiatric hospital has valuable information for researchers. Likewise, genealogists will find information about all the old families that helped settle East Texas. This little gem is worth a weekend trip to browse around some Saturday when you want to step back in time.”

The Heritage Center of Cherokee County is located at 208 S. Henderson St., just south of the Cherokee County Courthouse in downtown Rusk. Regular hours of operation are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Tours available through the week by appointment. Call 903-714-8685.

Admission is free. Groups are welcome.

The Center is a non-profit entity funded by community and visitor contributions. Donations may be made through the Center’s Facebook page, Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Texas; or send checks, may payable to Heritage Center of Cherokee County, to PO Box 974, Rusk, Texas 75785.

“The most fun way to donate, though, is to make one after you visit the Center and take the tour,” Marcontell said.