The Red River Railroad Museum, Inc. had a vision: to create a treasure trove of transportation history and celebrate the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy Railroad, and its role in shaping the Southwest.
This vision sparked a project by a group of former Katy employees and railroad enthusiasts. They were inspired by the Katy Railroad Historical Society (KRHS), which planted the idea of a museum to keep the legacy of the transportation industry alive. The museum was born at a meeting on July 10, 1987, and Denison, Texas was chosen as its home. A board of directors was formed, and a constitution and bylaws were adopted. The museum had two phases: the first was the Katy Railroad Historical Museum and the second was the transformation into the Red River Railroad Museum, Inc. which created the physical museum.
But where would the museum be housed? The museum had no place to call its own. It was agreed from the start that the Katy Depot was the perfect place for the museum, and the board carefully explored the best spot within the depot for the museum. Suite No. 120 on the main floor was selected after talks with the depot’s landlord and the museum directors. The following weeks turned into months as the volunteers worked hard to collect artifacts and fixtures for museum exhibits. The museum finally opened its doors on October 28, 1989.
THANK YOU, MR. O’BRIEN
The main driving force behind the project was Jim O’Brien, who had 49 years of service as a Katy Railroad employee and officer, ending with 22 years as Superintendent of Rules. Over the years O’Brien had gathered a variety of artifacts that he kept in his home and a rented warehouse facility. Once a physical location for the museum was secured, Mr. O’ Brien’s extensive collection became priceless. He was joined by Delbert Taylor, Don Mace, Bill Grier, Paul Neidert, and Norman Bauer in obtaining Katy memorabilia.
Of course, money was always an issue, and the museum would not have become a reality without $18,665 from charitable foundations.
The Katy Depot’s suite 120 was the home of the Red River Railroad Museum until 2021. However, the museum faced a crisis in 2020 due to several factors. The Covid epidemic drastically reduced the number of visitors to the museum, which meant reduced donations and reduced sales in the museum store. At the same time, the Depot sold, and the rent increased and was unaffordable for the struggling museum.
The museum was on the verge of closing and made their plight known to the area through local media. The public heard of the desperate situation of the museum and stepped up to help. Businesses placed donations boxes at their check-out counters with signs that read, “Save the Museum”. A group of eighth graders from Scott Middle School, called Scott Scholars, took on the museum’s challenge as an entrepreneurial project. They sold cocoa at the Christmas Parade and called themselves “Cocomotives”. With the help of matching fun from area businesses, the Scott Scholars presented the museum with a check for more than $8,000. The Katy Historical Society, a longtime friend of the museum, also donated $1500. Thanks to these generous contributions, the museum had enough money to stay afloat until another location could be found.
As luck would have it, a building housing an art gallery at 124 W. Main Street sold and the new owners offered to rent the building to the museum at a reduced price until it could recover financially. The board accepted the gracious offer, and the enormous task of moving thousands of artifacts and papers began. The City of Denison provided manpower and equipment to assist in the move. Within a few weeks the move was completed and on the last weekend of April 2022 the museum reopened.
The museum’s new home on Main Street has been a blessing. It has attracted more visitors, and it has also joined the local festivities and celebrations. The museum is fulfilling its mission of enlightening people about the history and impact of the first train into Texas from the north and the impact the railroad industry had on Denison and the Southwest.
For more information about the railroad and the Red River Railroad Museum, contact us today!