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Bell County Museum: Interact with history, science, and culture

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 17:59:39-04

There are Texas towns still enjoying the generosity of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

He was the steel magnate who gave away most of his fortune in the early 1900s to build libraries. Ann Harder takes us to the Belton landmark bearing the Carnegie name.

"Of the 32 Carnegie libraries built in Texas more a century ago, 13 are still in use today like the Belton Carnegie Library which is now the Bell County Museum," said Coleman Hampton, executive director of the museum.

Hampton said it was through the long-ago efforts of Belton Women’s Wednesday Club that made the Carnegie building a reality.

"Well in Belton in 1899, there was a small library but there wasn't a city library so the Women's Wednesday Club petitioned Andrew Carnegie, the great steel magnate in the northeast, for a 10-thousand dollar library grant," said Hampton.

It served as Belton's library until 1975 then was given to the Bell County Historical Commission and is now home to a number of impressive collections and permanent exhibits.

"Our mustache teacup collection is the largest publicly held collection in North America," said Hampton. "Mustache teacups were invented in the 1830s when mustaches were very popular."

Men used to wear wax on their mustaches and when they drank hot drinks, the wax would melt. Mustache teacups were created with an interior ridge to keep mustaches safe from the hot drinks.

"We have just received another 200 cups so now we have 450 mustache teacups in the collection."

The newly opened Bell County history exhibit shows how Bell County came to be.

"My favorite exhibit at the Bell County Museum is Discover Bell Bounty," said Hampton. "It goes through the history of Bell County in a series of themes, and the question we want to answer is why do people come to Bell County and what do they do once they got here. So it really gives visitors an idea of how this area was populated and how history unfolded before the county was founded, and after 1850."

The collections include replicas of famous and historic buildings around Bell county. And the Carnegie building itself features lovely turn-of-the-century touches.

"The architectural elements, of course, we have the wood floors," said Hampton. "This is longleaf pine. Old world longleaf pine. These trees grew over a period of hundreds and hundreds of years. So, with the trees or the lumber that you find today that new growth isn't quite the same so the wood floors are always something that sticks out to our visitors. Of course, the tin-type ceilings, these high ceilings that really give a kind of an open area feeling. And of course, outdoors, we have the large columns and red brick so it's a very special building."

Admission to the Belton Museum is always free! The Carnegie Legacy is still enriching Texas communities.

"It's just amazing that one man's philanthropy has lasted over 120 years in the form of these Carnegie libraries and I think it's really special that we still have over a dozen Carnegie libraries here in Texas and we're glad to have ours here as well," said Hampton.