By Susan Shore, Texas Heritage Trails Program Specialist
There’s something special about the land that is the Southern High Plains of Texas. When I moved to Lubbock from Chicago in 1996, the “horizontal yellow,” as author Dan Flores called it, pulled me in as no city landscape ever could. The land was everything to the people who roamed it and to those who eventually settled it. It determined what people ate, how they made a living, how they traveled, and how they interacted with neighbors. And it still does.
One family’s story about the challenges and delights of finding a home on this land is told at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center in Goodnight. The complex includes the recently restored 1887 Goodnight House, several outbuildings, and the J. Evetts Haley Visitor and Education Center. The latter contains exhibits that round out the story of Texas Panhandle pioneer and ranching icon Charles Goodnight, who established the first permanent cattle-raising operation in the region. His house stands at its original site, and the famous second-floor ‘sleeping porch’ has an expansive view that includes a small bison herd on the adjoining property. These bison are part of Goodnight’s descendant herd that now resides at Caprock Canyons State Park, and are managed by Buffalo Gold, a neighboring business. In the J. Evetts Haley Visitor Center, you’ll learn about bison and Goodnight’s efforts to save the Great Southern Plains herd from extinction, the evolution of transportation on the Southern High Plains, and the role of Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight in the settlement of the region.
The opening of the complex on April 13 is the culmination of seven years of work by Armstrong County Museum and its partners to raise nearly $3 million, restore the house to its original state, furnish it, build a visitors center, develop exhibits, and build a social media presence. Key partners included the Amarillo Area Foundation and Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. As part of the project, the museum also self-published the book Charles Goodnight: A Man for the Ages, with text by B. Byron Price and photographs by Wyman Meinzer. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) provided a heritage tourism partnership grant to assist with exhibit development and marketing.
Armstrong County Museum board chair Montie Goodin, board member Dr. Kay Henard, and Dr. Tim Chandler, professor of communications at Hardin-Simmons University, shared some insights about the challenges and benefits of working on the many facets of this project.
This is a multi-million dollar project. What were some of the fundraising challenges you encountered, and how were you assisted by the Amarillo Area Foundation?
Goodin: The major fundraising challenge we encountered was the fact that we are a small museum in a sparsely settled county. Many did not take our endeavors seriously, but there were many that did. From the start, we planned to only spend money when we had money, and would not risk the Armstrong County Museum by going in debt. That remained our plan and, consequently, when the recession hit, we “shut down” for one year right in the middle of our restoration. Then the money started flowing again, and we resumed work. The Amarillo Area Foundation is an asset for the entire area. Charlotte Rhodes, director of the foundation’s Nonprofit Service Center, was instrumental in helping us to achieve our goals. The Amarillo Area Foundation was first and foremost in charge of our grant program. They kept up with our financial needs involved with grant applications and grants received. They also were available for questions and general advice. They helped with fundraising events. Their contacts were invaluable and well worth the money spent to work with them.
How did working with Hardin-Simmons University enhance your understanding of exhibit development and capacity to develop the complex?
Henard: It was approximately seven years ago that Hardin-Simmons University Communications Professor Tim Chandler, EdD, jumped into the Goodnight project with all the vision and spirit needed to help bring the whole endeavor, including the visitors center, to life. He and his Communications students, and other professors with their students, used it as a real-life learning experience for their classes. They developed social media, documented the house restoration on video, and created marketing pieces, historical video, press releases, magazine articles, artwork, and much more. For the Haley Visitor Center, they undertook research of historical subject matter related to the Goodnights, including the bison and transportation's evolution in the Texas Panhandle. Exhibit planning and development proved both challenging and exciting. As Hardin-Simmons University developed material and it was cast by Exhibit Concepts, Inc., into design and production, there were several phases of editing, fact-checking, and photo selection that became vital to successful completion. That is where I learned so much about how to "tell the story" so that everyone could enjoy it. If we had known at the onset all that would be required to turn the story into a dynamic exhibit room, we might have been scared to tackle it. As it happened, everyone involved worked together to finalize each piece of the exhibit with excellent quality and aesthetic appeal.
How does the partnership between Hardin-Simmons University, Armstrong County Museum, and this project in particular, benefit the university and its students?
Chandler: The long-term partnership on this project has brought numerous benefits to the school, our academic units, and especially the students. Some of these benefits include the creation of an endowed scholarship fund for the communication department, the opportunity to be published as undergraduates, impressive portfolios of work created in support of the project, and field work assignments involving video production, photography, and research. Two of our students were able to secure year-long assignments managing social media accounts for the project, and several others had their work displayed, published, or utilized by media outlets, including magazine and newspaper, radio and television, and mail campaigns. The project was a trendsetter in interdisciplinary cooperation at our university among the departments of communication, art, music, history, and theatre, and has led to life-long relationships with the community of Claude, the Armstrong County Museum, the Texas Historical Foundation, and Exhibit Concepts in Ohio.
Now that the house has been restored and the visitor center open, are there additional plans for the center and the Goodnight story?
Goodin: We are quite enthusiastic about the further development of the center. Education is the key purpose of our endeavors. We are following through with the belief of Mr. and Mrs. Goodnight that education is an integral part in the development of an individual and a community. We are beginning work with the WOWW (Windows on a Wider World) program, an enrichment program of the Performing Arts Center of Amarillo. On May 17, we will be placing the arrow for the Quanah Parker Trail, a project implemented by the Texas Plains Trail Region of the THC. We are proud to be a part of this. Quanah was at first enemy, and then good friend, to Charles Goodnight. They each visited each other at the Goodnight House and at the Star House of Quanah Parker in Oklahoma.
The Charles Goodnight Historical Center is on Highway 287, 12 miles southeast of Claude, and about 45 minutes south-southeast of Amarillo. When traveling to Goodnight, be sure to stop in Claude for a visit to the Armstrong County Museum and Gem Theatre. Pick up some lunch in nearby Clarendon and visit the Saint’s Roost Museum to learn more about Charles Goodnight and his association with the JA Ranch, still the oldest privately owned ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
Goodnight and Armstrong County are located in the 52-county Texas Plains Trail Region.
If you like this post, please subscribe to our blog.