GLADEWATER – There are many lessons to be learned from history and folks at the Gladewater Museum seem eager to share a few.

The group is putting together a special “Night at the Museum” to highlight the history of the small oil boom town, recognized largely for its early ties to a young Elvis Presley and the Antiques Capital of East Texas.

Come-and-go living history tours are set for 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 116 W. Pacific, featuring “characters” from the past discussing the people, places and things that contributed to making Gladewater what it is today.

“It should be a lot of fun,” said museum director Elaine Roddy. “It’s a good way to get people to visit the museum and learn about the town.”

Admission is free. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes.


Night at the Museum offers a rare opportunity to glimpse an oft-overlooked artifact — the building itself.

The 1930s era structure housing the museum once served as a government building.

Back in the day, the downstairs served a variety of purposes, from tax office to city library, while upstairs housed the city’s auditorium and small meeting spaces.

As the town grew, the government offices eventually relocated and in 2005 the museum took over the vacated space.

Outside of museum volunteers and regulars, few people venture upstairs these days.

Some might describe the second floor as being “a little rough around the edges.”

There’s no elevator, so the only way to access it is by taking the stairs.

It lacks heat and air conditioning.

It needs paint, electrical upgrades, carpeting and temperature controls.

What is does have, however, is potential and plenty of period details, supporters said.

“This is our dream, to bring this room back,” Ms. Roddy said during a recent tour. “We’re really excited — we want people to see the potential.”

For the curious, the museum’s vintage second floor, once a cultural hub for concerts and special events, is adorned matching art deco light switch plates and frosty glass on the coat check window.

The auditorium — once home to a gleaming grand piano — is outfitted with a stage, original wood floors, soaring windows and an attached kitchen space.

Concrete stairs leading to the space are sturdy and lined with curved wood handles with metal supports.

Coincidently, a “Helping Hand” tree features a wish list of ways to help transform this diamond in the rough into a go-to for education and social engagement.

For those who aren’t big into stairs, museum officials plan to show a downstairs video about some elements of the upstairs, including a new exhibit about late Gladewater resident John Ben Shepperd, who served as Texas Attorney General and secretary of state.


There’s a host of local and regional artifacts displayed throughout the first floor.

“We’ll have different community members throughout the museum,” said volunteer Lois Reed. “They’ll be talking about the exhibits and explaining some of the history of Gladewater.”

Visitors can see a new January exhibit about the award-winning Kilgore College Rangerettes that wraps up this month.

It focuses largely on performers from Gladewater and highlights the history of the famous group and its founder, Gussie Nell Davis, a trailblazer who brought global recognition to the area.

The Rangerettes exhibit features portraits, artifacts and historical accounts.

“What got it started was, the family of one of the first Rangerettes gave us some of her stuff — a blanket, a doll …” Ms. Roddy said. “It’s been very well received.”

There’s also a special Elvis section, featuring vintage photos and artifacts, such as a midcentury-era leather couch that provided a comfy seat for the crooner.

Some artifacts are courtesy of late radio icon Tom Perryman, who died Thursday.

Perryman helped a young Elvis get a foothold in the music industry, seeking out gigs in a variety of venues, from beer joints to the backs of flatbed trucks.

Thousands of visitors stop by the exhibit annually to glimpse memorabilia linked to the “King of Rock and Roll.”

The Gladewater Museum is generally open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and other times by appointment by calling 903-845-7608.

“We’re really hoping people will come out and support the museum,” Ms. Roddy said. “It’s going to be a very special night.”



Jacque Hilburn-Simmons is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally for 30 years. She's a former police reporter who also wrote a book about the KFC murder. She shares stories about East Texas through her Behind the Wheel column.

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