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Heart of Texas Historical Museum

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Heart Of Texas Historical Museum

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By John Hallowell

While the hours have changed, the museum in Brady’s old jail is better than ever!

By the time Brady’s classy new jail was built in 1910, the mob violence was over in McCulloch County, and civilization (for the most part) prevailed; although the jail is equipped with a fully operational gallows, the hanging rope has never been used!

Judging by the graffiti in the drunk tanks on the third floor, the jail did come in handy for many years before the state ruled in 1973 that it no longer met requirements, and would have to be replaced.

In 1974, the building was purchased for $5 by a nonprofit corporation, and the Heart of Texas Historical Museum was established in the ground floor. Since then, the museum has seen steady improvements and expansion, so that Fort Worth columnist Jon McConnel called it “the best small museum I have seen.”

Heart Of Texas Historical Museum

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The Texas state legislature formed McCulloch County in 1856, and named it for the famous Indian fighter and Texas Ranger, Benjamin McCulloch, who later rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. Settlers were few and far between until well after the Civil War; the 1870 census counted only 173 people in McCulloch County, but extensive settlement began within the next few years. In 1876, the county government was organized, with the town of Brady (named for surveyor Peter Brady) as its seat.

The museum contains many artifacts from Brady’s early days as an agricultural center and before (Bert Striegler, who served as museum president for twelve years, and is still a board member, has organized and catalogued a huge collection of arrowheads and knives dating back for thousands of years. “McCulloch County is absolutely covered with Indian artifacts,” he says). It commemorates small railroad towns like Placid, Melvin and Rochelle, and it documents Brady’s transformation into a thriving cultural and commercial center for the entire area. But a main focus of the museum is the county’s role in World War II, when it served as a training center for thousands of pilots and as a prisoner-of-war camp for German captives, including Gestapo, S.S. and members of Rommel’s Afrika Corps.

Several Brady natives were genuine war heroes, and the museum proudly bears witness to their accomplishments. Houston Lee Braly was flying a P-51 Mustang over France when he swooped low to strafe a military train near the town of Remy. His direct hit not only blew up dozens of carloads of V-2 rockets and killed hundreds of German troops, but blew all the windows out of the Remy cathedral and blew the wings off his own plane! He was killed when the fuselage of his airplane crashed into a house in Remy, but the grateful town has become Brady’s sister city, and has sent delegations to Brady in Braly’s honor three times since the war. Pilots from Braly’s squadron helped raise a half-million dollars to install new stained-glass windows in the Remy cathedral.

Heart Of Texas Historical Museum

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Wayne Rawlings flew 61 missions over Europe in a B-26 bomber (and lived to tell it!) After retirement, he served as a greeter at Walmart, and many admirers would seek him out just to shake his hand.

Earl Rudder led rangers up the cliffs of Normandy on D-Day and became one of the war’s most decorated soldiers, rising to the rank of Major General. He served as mayor of Bradt from 1946 to 1952, then as Texas Land Commissioner, then as president of Texas A&M University. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.

These heroes and more are honored at the Brady museum, and for that reason alone, a visit is inspiring and rewarding. But there are many other fascinating glimpses into Brady’s past. Bert Streigler showed me a box of old postcards donated by a lady from Wilmington, N.C. One of them shows his grandfather’s Popular Dry Goods Store, which was in business from 1921 to 1923. In the restored kitchen, he pointed out water faucets recast for the museum by Chicago Brass from molds dating back to the 1920s. They couldn’t find any molds to make the right handles, so these authentic faucets are equipped with the “wrong handles.”

Mr. Streigler gave me a tour of the old jail cells, showed me the “drunk tanks,” the “hanging rope” and the maximum security cells. He showed me a bill of sale for slaves, a steamboat bill of lading from the 1840s when 1,500 Texas dollars were worth $18 in U.S. currency) and a financing agreement for a $126 piano in 1897. He (or another volunteer) will be delighted to give you the same Grand Tour if you’ll just pay them a visit! The museum is open from 1-5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 1-4 on Sunday.

Heart Of Texas Historical Museum