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Red River Railroad Museum considers its future in Denison

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
The Red River Railroad Museum is considering its future following low volunteerism, funding cuts and lower-than-required representation on the board of directors.

The future of a long-time Denison museum remains unclear following funding changes and a lack of volunteers and board members.

The Red River Railroad Museum is currently looking at ways to keep the museum running on track for years to come. Organizers with the museum held a board meeting Sunday to discuss the museum’s current status and potentially recruit new members and volunteers.

“We are currently well below the number of board members and volunteers that we really need to stay open,” Museum Curator Joy Jackson said. “We need the volunteers to have set hours for the museum.”

The museum first opened its doors in the Katy Depot, former home of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad in the early 1990s with exhibits related to the rail company and Denison’s history as a railroad hub in the 19th century.

“It has always been about trying to educate our visitors about the railroads and the role railway transportation had in building Denison and the North Texas area,” Jackson said. “Katy was exceptionally important because it actually built Denison.”

Many of the early streets in Denison were named after railroad officials. The city itself is named after George Denison, a railroad vice president.

Aside from a stay across the street, the museum has spent much of its history within the back side of the former rail station. Jackson eastimated that it sees about 3,000 visitors each year.

Among the issues facing the museum is a shortage of leadership on the board of directors. Under the bylaws for the museum, it must have at least eight board members, with a maximum of 16.

Currently, the board is comprised of five members, but Jackson said he expects this to drop further following an accident that could require one member and his wife to leave.

“So that is two that we are more than likely going to lose,” he said.

In addition to the board, Jackson said the museum has had difficulty finding volunteers to assist in running the museum on a day-to-day basis. While special events may bring in as many as seven volunteers, normally he only has about three volunteers, including himself.

The museum also lost one of its funding sources in recent months as the city of Denison reduced funding for the museum following budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Traditionally, the museum has received funding from the city to pay for some of its pent, utilities and operations costs through the city’s hotel-motel occupancy taxes. However, now it will just receive $5,000 for advertising expenses.

“We are hoping everything will go back to normal after next year, but without it we can’t pay the rent or utilities.”

As of Monday, Jackson said the museum’s rent is paid off for the year. However,t he long-term future remains in question.

During Sunday’s meeting, about 35 people showed up to get more information on the future of the museum. From that group, two people signed up to serve as board members, with a few others expressing interest.

However, no one committed to assisting with volunteer hours, Jackson said. Jackson also received suggestions on how to increase funding, including by holding special events and by turning to local non-profits.

“It is still up in the air, but we will know a bit more following the next board meeting in October,” he said.

Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at