The Fort Bend County Museum Association, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt corporation chartered in 1967, whose mission is to preserve and interpret Texas and Fort Bend County history. The American Association of Museums accredited the Association in 1991 and again in 1999, one of only 34 museums in Texas to receive this recognition. Located in the southwestern quadrant of the Houston metropolitan region, the Museum Association serves local, regional and international audiences at its museums and historic sites. The Texas Historical Commission, in a published evaluation of historic sites (2001), termed the Fort Bend Museum "one of Texas' best local history showcases," and the George Ranch as a "premier Texas...heritage tourism attraction."
The Association operates a local history museum and six historic structures in Richmond, an avocational archeological society, a downtown historic district, and the programs at the 480-acre George Ranch Historical Park. The Association also leads partnerships and collaborations that extend its impact in archeology, preservation and heritage tourism to a broader region of Southeast Texas. Led by a 20-member volunteer Board of Trustees, the organization's current operating budget is $1.6 million. Association staff consists of 16 full-time, 30 part-time and more than 230 volunteer employees.
The Fort Bend and metropolitan Houston communities generously support the Museum Association. More than 300 people are on the Association's membership rolls, about 150 others make financial contributions each year, and almost 600 people attend the organization's annual fundraiser, the Lone Star Stomp, which nets close to $120,000 for the Museum. Support comes from city, county, state and federal governments, corporations, foundations, and many individuals. Earned income plays a major part in funding the organization, with revenue from admissions, tours, sales, special events and facility rentals providing more than $1 million per year in operating income.
Participation in the Museum's programs and services has grown consistently, increasing, for example, from 12,972 visitors in 1986 to almost 80,000 in 2010. Included in these figures are school programs presented to more than 35,000 school children from 37 school districts in a 14-county area. In 2004 the Museum Association launched a major new educational outreach, the Texian Time Machine, to provide hands-on living history experiences on school campuses in the Houston metropolitan area. It has proven to be very successful throughout Harris and Fort Bend Counties.
The artifact and archival collections of the Fort Bend Museum and the George Ranch Historical Park total more than 40,000 items that document the settlement of the region, agriculture, community development, and local government, with particularly significant collections on topics of Stephen F. Austin's Texas Colony (1821-1836), ranching and black cowboy traditions. Virtually all of the collections items are entered in Access databases, and more than 4,000 historic photographs have been scanned and linked to the collections databases. These collections are searchable through the Museum's website, and will eventually be linked to collections throughout the state through the Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative.
The Association is increasingly using the word Texian to brand its activities that interpret colonial Texas history--such as the Texian Market Days festival and Texian Gazette newsletter. The word Texian was used by the early settlers of Texas to describe themselves. Although the term passed out of favor by the time of the Civil War, it provides a good identifier for the Association's focus on Austin's Colony history (1824-1836) and the region of Southeast Texas (more than 30 current counties) that composed that colony.
One focus of the Museum Association's efforts is the development of a Richmond Historic District in partnership with the City of Richmond. The Museum has initiated planning for a downtown historic district, including proposing preservation and architectural review guidelines for the district, which have been approved and implemented by the City of Richmond.
Beginning in 1988, the Museum has contracted to operate living history programs at the 480-acre George Ranch Historical Park, owned by the George Foundation. The Park is at the center of the 23,000-acre George Ranch, and has remained in this one family's hands since its settlement as part of Austin's Colony in 1824. The Museum's management of this facility has greatly expanded its impact and public service. The museum has implemented a long-range plan that utilizes living history demonstrations to illustrate the development of the ranch at four important periods of its history: 1830s, 1860s, 1890s, and 1930s--interpreting the impact of Austin's Colony on this one family's ranch to complement its in-town exhibits and programs. The Fort Bend Museum's leadership in developing the living history programs of the George Ranch is receiving state and national attention, and has resulted in an invitation to participate in the Outdoor History Museum Forum--a discussion group of senior staff from the top 20 living history museums in the country.
In 2003 the Association created Texian Heritage Enterprises as a project management and revenue-producing branch of the organization to find creative ways to preserve history in a new economic climate. This team of staff and contractors focuses the expertise of our organization to produce heritage services and projects--in areas of archeology, exhibits, historic preservation, collections management and digital imaging--for our own benefit, for collaborative partners, and for outside clients. Recent projects have included a contract with the City of Sugar Land and the Imperial Sugar Company to identify and collect artifacts and archives from the closed Imperial Sugar Company premises. In a multi-year collaboration with Fort Bend County, the staff of Texian Heritage Enterprises conducted extensive research, compiled family archives and collections, and led preservation efforts to restore a turn of the century plantation house in Missouri City. Completed in early 2011, the DeWalt Heritage Center, located in Kitty Hollow Park, showcases local history and provides both an educational facility and a community focal point for small events.
The Association has inaugurated other partnerships to extend its services beyond the Richmond Historic District and the George Ranch Historical Park. A partnership with the University of North Texas Libraries helped lead the creation of the Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative, which continues to develop unified online access to cultural heritage resources held by Texas institutions. The Fort Bend Museum was the only museum in Texas to be included in the initial 10 institutions that collaborated with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to pilot this statewide initiative.