preserved in old theater
By Mary K. Hamner
The Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, located at 116 Pearl Street in Minden, Louisiana, was opened June 10, 2008. The building, which was the former Rex Movie Theater in the 1930s, today offers a walk through Minden and Webster Parish History. The museum had been a dream of the Dorcheat Historical Association for more than 30 years.
Executive Director Schelley Brown wants visitors to be aware of the wonderful history behind what Minden is today. "If children and young adults are not made aware of the importance of history they tend to grow up without any sense of community spirit and community pride," she said. "Teaching community pride is one thing the museum will strive for."
Artist Larry Milford who designed and built many of the interesting exhibits, said, "We pull people in by the pictures we paint, then we tell the story." Milford's artwork includes mannequins and artifacts tracing Caddo Indian history, and illustrations from steamboat days when Dorcheat Bayou was the main travel artery for the parish. We learn that Newitt Drew established a saw and gristmill at Overton on Bayou Dorcheat in 1822. Overton became the seat of government for Claiborne Parish. After having been hit by two yellow fever epidemics, Overton lost the title as Parish seat and by the mid-1850s the town was abandoned.
The old movie theater building was large enough to accommodate the Obier Log Cabin, an outstanding example of living conditions of settlers in the area. A family from Shongaloo had donated it to the police jury and it was stored for a time before being reconstructed inside the museum. Milford laid the stonework for the fireplace.
A ramble through the many artistically arranged displays introduces visitors to the tragedies suffered during the tornado, fire and stock market crash of the 1930s, the civil rights movement, the oil boom, as well as church, industry, railroad history, schools sports, and government and civic leaders of the past. "We are currently looking for pictures that we can document digitally to add to our archives," Schelley Brown said.
"We are also very interested in private collections, items stuck in trunks or boxes in attics. These items could be lost forever and their significance may be forgotten unless preserved and on display to the public."
The museum is still a work in progress. A large area in back is to be developed as a Children's Learning Center. Currently the museum is having monthly seminars featuring historians from the parish. These events are now held at Christopher on Main Street but will eventually be held in the Museum's learning center. These monthly 2nd Monday performances have traditionally attracted a large attendance. The interesting oral histories are recorded on DVD and are on sale at the Museum.
Private donations and memberships as well as grants have funded the Dorcheat Historical Museum. "Two cookbooks, Taste of Yesterday, and A Taste of Class, developed as fundraisers, are shipped all over," Schelley Brown said. "The books are unique in that they contain history and photos about the Minden area plus recipes and they have sold very well. We also sponsor special events to raise funds. It has taken a lot or people working together to make the museum a reality and its an ongoing process," she said.
"The museum is not just a few people's museum, it belongs to all of us. We will always need funding and support from our community. Preserving our history is important to me, it's something I am passionate about."
Dorcheat Museum, located at 116 Pearl Street, is open Tuesday - Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed for lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. It is open on Saturday from 10 a.m. until Noon or call for appointment 318-377-3002.