The story of the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum


As the museum becomes more well-known in the community, it needs to also grow physically, so on October 14, 1981, there was a ground-breaking ceremony for its expansion, i.e. the extension of the stockade building. This had been preceded by a fund-raising effort that totaled $174,000 from private donations. A 2,300 square foot addition was built onto the existing building.

The added space allowed for the exhibit of costumes and historic manikin displays. On 11/7/82 with Henry Griffin as president of the RGV Museum Association and Harold Ebbage, chairman of the Board of Directors, the new wing is dedicated. Two years later the outside appearance of the display building would be enhanced with the construction of a Spanish replica bell tower and the installation of a brick patio.

Although the by-laws of the association were adopted on January 20, 1981, the official incorporation of the organization would not be until 2/19/85 when the State of Texas grants the Rio Grande Valley Museum Association NON PROFIT status.

1985 This year saw some major improvements to the complex. An enclosed patio with a fountain was laid along with inlaid-patterned paths. Some interior walls in the original building were removed to provide a better flow pattern and exhibition space. A storage area was erected and carpeting was installed. A tall southwestern style bell tower was erected over the main entrance to the museum.

January 20, 1987 The Rio Grande Valley Museum Association of Harlingen, Inc. adopts its By-Laws with Wayne Potter as acting secretary.

July 1988 The RGV Museum Association conducts its first membership drive. Its purposes are twofold: to raise money for continued expansion and recruit volunteers for the Museum Volunteer Program. This drive was chaired by Edna Tamayo. At the time Menton J. Murray was chairman of the Museum Board of Directors while George Pletcher was president of the association.

1989 The F Street Hospital and Paso Real Stagecoach Inn were relocated once more on the museum grounds with funds donated in a will. This allowed more appropriate room for the future relocation at the museum of the the Hill House. Judge Menton Murray and his wife Betty worked diligently to acquire suitable artifacts to furnish the hospital in an authentic manner.

5/89 The original Lon C. Hill home at Lon C. Hill Park is moved across town from Fair Park to the Rio Grande Valley Museum complex. By the end of 1989 all three historic buildings are ready to be showcased.

1990 Important for the museum’s growth was the city’s appropriation of $500,000 for the construction of a new visitor center building. This occurred after the citizen approval of a bond issue. This structure of 8,012 square feet would eventually consist of two large exhibition display rooms and a third one that could serve for meetings or exhibitions ( All these could also serve as event rental areas as well as could the foyer/atrium and courtyard areas.), a sizable welcoming foyer/atrium that would be used for exhibition opening receptions, a gift shop with a merchandise storage area, a workroom and office for docents, an office for the museum director (later coordinator) a small kitchen, a projection room, and a large area for storage of material for upcoming exhibits. This building was close to the street and also the large available parking area.

1991 Linn Keller is employed to be museum director.

1992 The Rio Grande Valley Museum gets a facelift with the completion of the new reception/exhibition building to front the complex.

It has a gala pre-opening on April 10, 1992. This new facility is valued at $640,000 in 2002.

Later the brick patio in front of the Historical Building is extended at a cost of $20,000, half of which comes from an anonymous donor and the other half from the City.

April 1993 Thanks to the efforts of Betty Murray the historic Ross-Bobo house at 521 E. Harrison is saved and moved to the museum grounds. This structure was the home of Harlingen’s second mayor, Lawrence Sullivan (L.S.) Ross Jr. (son of the famed Sul Ross) and later the Water District Manager C.P. Bobo. Numerous Harlingenites would later remember it as the site of Bobo’s Baby Bank, a popular day nursery.

1999 The Texas Hotel and Motel Association’s Legal defense fund questioned the city’s use of $178,699 to fund the museum.

2/2001 Linn Keller, who had been employed in 1991, resigns as museum director after experiencing conflicting ideas about the museum’s future direction.

7/2001 Karen Gerhardt is hired as new museum director. She holds a master’s degree in museum studies from Baylor University and has been employed for three years as Weslaco Bicultural Museum director at a salary of about $30,000. It is on 11/10/01 that Ms. Gerhardt is placed on administrative leave after male employee Ramon Rivera makes a police report stating that he was threatened by her. On 11/15 she is released by the City. Following this dismissal the museum experiences several years of loose administration and can be said to have been adrift.

2002With the internet quickly seeing more widespread usage, the museum adds to and redesigns its website handled by Blueroom Designs. In future years the site will be incorporated under the city’s My Harlingen website. In this period the museum’s slogan is “It’s Alive”. There is an admission charge of $1.00 for children and seniors and $2.00 for adults. Later the museum will adopt a “no charge” policy.

The museum is open at the time Wednesday through Sunday only. At present it is closed only on Mondays.

2003 This year saw the advent of a very successful annual fund-raising event, The Taste of Harlingen. Held in the fall, the courtyard area of the museum hosted a number of Harlingen restaurants and food providers who offered their wares at booths. To add to the festivities an unusual theme accompanied each event together with live music.

12/2004 City Parks and Recreation head, Tom Wilson, is given the directorship duties for the museum. He enthusiastically picks up the slack reins and initiates plans for its future. His tenure is cut short when on 1/17/05 Thomas (Tom) Michael Wilson, 52, dies of a heart attack. This Fort Worth native first worked in the Valley for the city of Mission where he helped to restore the historical La Lomita Mission Chapel. In Harlingen he became Director of Public Services (Parks and Recreation), a task he truly relished. One of his major accomplishments here was the creation of the Arroyo Trail.

Recently he had been assigned the additional job as head of the Rio Grande Valley Museum. He was moving quickly to revitalize this somewhat stagnant institution when he succumbed. This Catholic leaves his wife, Maria Guadalupe (MG) Moreno, and sons Thomas Marion Wilson, Timothy Michael Wilson, and Todd Matthew Wilson, all of Harlingen, in addition to his mother, brothers, and sisters. Family wishes were that memorial contributions be made to the museum in lieu of flowers. On May 4 the city commission voted to name the southwest playing fields at the Harlingen Sports Complex on Wilson Road the “Tom Wilson Youth Sports Complex.”

2/05 Upon the death of Wilson, the Museum Board actively moves to revitalize the museum. Volunteers are secured and trained. An inviting series of exhibits and events are then to follow. The city eventually places the museum under the direction of Joel Humphries, Director of Arts and Entertainment.

3/6/05 A Texas State Historical marker commemorating the Harlingen Army Air Field and the Harlingen Air Force Base is dedicated and placed in the front of the museum. Markers already exist for the Old Harlingen Hospital and for the Lon C. Hill house.