Look at all this stuff! That might be your first impression when you go inside the Wise County Heritage Museum. The building is 3 stories tall and filled wall-to-wall with antiques, photographs, and other vintage items from Wise County’s past.
Highlights of the museum are discussed below. The featured exhibit is The Lost Battalion, a tribute to a group of soldiers held as prisoners of war during World War II. Another popular exhibit is Woody Cabin, the first home ever built in Wise County. The building itself has its own history and was constructed in 1893 to serve as a local college.
Visitors have free reign of the building and the land it sits on. With so many interesting things on display, some of the rooms might feel a little crowded. Despite being short on space, the museum is worth a stop on your next road trip through Decatur. Tours are available for groups if you call ahead of time The museum is managed by the Wise County Historical Society.
The museum is a short drive from downtown Decatur and local area restaurants. The 3-story building sits on a hilltop and can be seen from blocks away.
The Lost Battalion
The Lost Battalion included 534 members of the 2nd Batallion, 131st Field Artillery, 36th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. These soldiers, along with 368 survivors of the USS Houston, were captured and held as prisoners of war by the Japanese during World War II. The soldiers were subjected to brutal conditions in prison camps for 42 months. The group was called The Lost Battalion because the military was unable to find out what happened to them until over 2 years later. Over 160 men died during the ordeal. Many of these men were from Wise County and other parts of Texas.
The exhibit is a tribute to the heroes from The Lost Battalion. It’s located on the second floor of the museum. One side includes a wall-to-wall display case of uniforms, photos, and many other artifacts. The middle area features magazine and newspaper articles about the battalion and what they and their families had to endure. There are also clippings about the battalion returning home and reunions that have occurred here in the past.
Decatur Baptist College
You’ll see references to “DBC” throughout the museum. That’s because Decatur Baptist College occupied the building from 1898 to 1965. It was the first junior college in history and served as a prep school for Baylor University. There are photos of classmates and other memorabilia, like the lettermen jacket seen in the picture above. DBC was eventually moved to Dallas and renamed Dallas Baptist University.
Sam Woody Cabin
According to the museum staff, Sam Woody built this cabin in the 1850s. Woody was the first settler of the Wise County, and his cabin was the first structure ever built in the area. He used his cabin as a trading post so frontiersman could trade goods with the local Indians.
Woody was also known to always welcome travelers. A family descendant provided a quote Sam Woody once made:
The prettiest sight I ever saw is a new country, where man has never been and which is just as the great God of Heaven left it.Sam Woody
As years went by, the cabin was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 2006, it was moved from its original location piece-by-piece to the front lawn of the museum. A metal canopy was also built to protect the cabin from severe weather. The cabin stays locked, but it’s opened during guided tours of the museum.
Sam Sampler Room
The Sam Sampler Room, aka the Military Room, pays tribute to the veterans of Wise County. Sampler was a medal of honor recipient from Decatur. There are uniforms from every branch of the military.
You can see vintage photos, maps, and posters of the soldiers and information about the units they served in. Weapons on display include machine gun from WWII and a rifle with an attached bayonet from the Civile War.
Sam Sampler served in World War I and was awarded the medal of honor in 1918. Sampler charged and took out an enemy position while under heavy fire. You can read more about his heroism at the Medal of Honor Foundation website.
1886 Funeral Coach
This is an 1886 model funeral coach (hearse) that was horse-driven like a wagon. The walls are made of transparent glass, and you can see a makeshift coffin laying inside. There are lanterns on the front and back, in case the funeral lasted into the evening or nighttime. A sign says the hearse included an air-conditioned front seat.
A single room on the first floor is dedicated to furnishings and pictures of Wise County residents. Most of the items are from the turn of the century, some as old as the late 1800s. The artifacts and pictures were donated to the museum by family members.
Pictured above is a record player from the early 1900s. Electricity wasn’t required to play records on it. You only had to turn the crank on the side to wind it up. It was portable, meaning it could be moved around the house and didn’t require an electric cord. You can also see vintage televisions, stereos, and other electronics for entertaining guests.
Before modern calculators, there were mechanical “calculating machines”. This model was manufactured by the Monroe company around 1918. These machines were popular with retail stores and served as cash registers. The devices didn’t require electricity. Rows of buttons and the lever on the side were used to create a running total. That number would be displayed on the top component of the machine.
Vintage Farm Tools
You can see many of the vintage tools that were used by Wise County farmers. Agriculture had a major impact on the local economy, from the pioneer days up through the early 1900s. During those days, most people lived outside the city limits and raised crops like wheat, cotton, and corn.
Brass Cash Register
Before we had debit cards, cash registers were all mechanical. Near the turn of the century, many cash registers were ornamental and made of brass like the one pictured above. This type of register was
School Room Mockup
On the 3rd floor, there’s a room with a makeshift schoolhouse from the early 1900s. The walls have windows cut-out so visitors can see the artifacts inside. Items include desks, books, and clothing worn by students and teachers. There are also other exhibits in the same area. A train display sits in the middle of the room. There’s also a collection of sewing machines from the late 1800s.
|Address:||1602 S Trinity St|
Decatur, TX 76234