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Traveling Texas: Waco's hidden gem, the Helen Marie Taylor Museum

Posted at 2:01 PM, Oct 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-20 23:49:00-04

WACO, Texas — Did you know you can see artifacts from American history like George Washington's vest or Dolly Madison’s bodice in Waco?

Or get the inside story on the Indians who lived here or the Cotton Palace or even the Branch Davidians?

You can find all this and more at the Helen Marie Taylor Museum near Downtown Waco!

The late Helen Marie Taylor dedicated her life to preserving history.

Back in the 1980s, she bought the old Barron Springs Elementary School at 701 Jefferson and opened her museum in 1993.

The museum has been open to small groups by invitation for most of its existence - but big plans are in place for renovations and for full-time hours.

At a recent open house, hundreds of visitors got to tour the museum and get a taste of Helen Marie Taylor's vision for her museum and see the amazing artifacts she collected throughout her long life.

In the “We the People” exhibit, you’ll see treasures like George Washington's embroidered vest, garments that were worn by his wife Martha and Dolly Madison, and household items from Zachary Taylor and James Monroe.

“She would say that she was a legend bearer and a storyteller,” said Brandon Taylor.

Virginia investment banker Brandon Taylor serves as a trustee for the multi-million dollar trust fund Taylor set up before she died.

“She was careful not to say she was a historian. But she loved early American history," said Taylor.

"And you're in the room here that focuses on that. She loved the United States Constitution. She loved the United States. Democracy, capitalism. And she loved Waco.”

And that love for Waco's history is showcased in exhibits celebrating the early 20th century days when cotton was king.

The collection of cotton palace queen gowns is stunning.

The darker days of Waco's history are also showcased in the Branch Davidian exhibit.

And there are plans to broaden the exhibits to include more 20th-century, African American, and Hispanic history.

But a key feature of the museum is its exhibit on the Indian tribal people who camped here along the Brazos.

Derek Ross’s ancestor was one of those Indians and he is a member of Witchita and affiliated tribes.

“There are actually four tribes within the tribe, which are Wichita, Waco, Tawakoni, and Kichai; and I grew up in Anadarko, Oklahoma. So the tribe, the Waco part of the tribe was removed from Waco on August 1st, 1859. So I'm six generations removed from Waco," said Ross.

"And I think that's important for people to know not to make people feel bad, but education, you know, that's so important.”

The museum even has a treaty signed by Sam Houston with Indian tribes in Texas; a treaty Ross says was ultimately broken.

The long-term future is bright for the Helen Marie Taylor Museum.

With a million-dollar renovation on the way and an endowment ensuring it’s here in Waco for the next 100 years, this museum will be telling the extraordinary history of Waco, the state of Texas, and the nation for years to come.

In the meantime, stay tuned for word of the grand reopening.