There are not many places where a wide variety of cultures that span centuries gather together in one time and place. Within each is a history that celebrates humanity and the advances that have brought civilization to where it is today. Lubbock, Texas, is one of those places.
Lubbock is home to a variety of venues that stop time by reflecting on the past. You may be wondering where you can find this intermingling of cultures, and the answer is simple, the museums throughout the Hub City. From dinosaurs to tractors and ranching operations to the past 100 years of Texas Tech University, Lubbock is littered with facilities that house the history, heritage, culture and legacy of the South Plains and beyond.
“One of our board members put it best, he said very few areas can tell their entire story from prehistoric to modern day,” said Lacee Hoelting, executive director of the FiberMax Center for Discovery and a graduate of the agricultural communications program at Texas Tech.
“And if you look at the combination of museums and centers that we have in Lubbock-from Lubbock Lake Landmark, where you’re finding prehistoric bones, all the way to the American Windmill Museum, where you’re talking about wind turbines—you’re getting the full story of how life has changed over time on the South Plains. I think it really is a combination of all of our facilities that tell that story.”
HISTORY & HERITAGE
Lubbock’s museums have a reputation for presenting prestigious, nationally recognized collections. Texas Tech University leads the way with ties to several of them, starting with the Museum of Texas Tech University, a multidisciplinary museum. It houses six disciplines – anthropology, art, clothing and textiles, history, paleontology and natural sciences – and has over 8.8 million specimens, artifacts and objects. Its featured exhibit is the Texas Tech University Centennial, which celebrates the university’s past 100 years and will be on display until December 23, 2023.
“Bringing really great exhibits to the community is important,” said Aaron D. Pan, Ph.D., who has been the museum’s executive director for the past three years. “I mean, some people in the community may never go to Paris or Milan, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t bring some of that here, which is also important. I think it’s also working in collaboration with a lot of the other institutions here on campus.”
The Museum of Texas Tech University also collaborates with Lubbock Lake Landmark. Established in 1972, the landmark is an archeological and natural history preserve that covers 300 acres and offers a continuous cultural sequence dating back to 12,000 years ago. There is often an active archeological research dig coinciding with other programs at the landmark.
“We actually work our research program in the entire region, but the landmark is home base,” said Director Eileen Johnson, Ph.D. “We are into geology, stratigraphy, the sediments, soils, plants, the animals, people, you name it, and how that all fits together to be able to look at the heritage of this region and to interpret it then to the public. The landmark’s record goes back 2.6 million years, but not with people.”
Johnson has directed the Lubbock Lake Landmark for over 50 years. She said when offered the position, she could not believe she was being handed such an incredible opportunity, as the landmark has a national reputation. With only 5% of the 300 acres having been searched, she hopes to see much more of the land explored and its secrets revealed.
Located on the Texas Tech campus, the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library is a repository for collections. Originally part of the Museum of Texas Tech University when it was housed in Holden Hall, the collection has grown to contain six departments. The collection includes historical accounts of the Southwest, Mexico, Texas, ranching, railroads, oil, cattle and various other Southwest histories. The items are interpreted through documents and rare books.
Weston Marshall, the unit manager for the Southwest Collection Reference Department, has always been intrigued by history and culture. Growing up in Lubbock, his roots run deep. He originally planned to leave home, but Texas Tech had unrivaled programs and career opportunities. Marshall decided to stay and has been with the university ever since.
One of Marshall’s responsibilities as the unit manager is to work with patrons. When he has the chance to give a tour, he loves to see their reactions to the collections.
“It’s interesting for me to see how people react to an archive,” Marshall said. “And a lot of people don’t really know how to react because it’s their first time visiting an institution where there’s so many rules and regulations.
“For me, I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible so they can look past those archival regulations, and really dig into the material that they’re looking at and build an appreciation for it. I want people to come away from the archive knowing that they’ve found something of value to their research and hopefully wanting to do more research.”
Whether it is through alumni who are running the museums, internship programs that draw from the well of university students, or building new additions that complement each other, each institution works together to tell their stories. Teamwork is woven throughout each museum and every member has a part to play.
The National Ranching Heritage Center is another nationally recognized museum in Lubbock with ties to Texas Tech. A two-time graduate of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications at Texas Tech and a native of Hereford, Texas, Executive Director Jim Bret Campbell said working at the NRHC is special to him because it means he is close to home. He has spent 25 years in the industry in association management.
The NRHC is a 27-acre museum and historical park that preserves ranching history and heritage. Exhibits include everything from historical clothing and textiles to the actual houses and barns used in ranching through the years, giving guests an opportunity to experience ranching’s past.
“Really, we hope that from the time they turn into our entrance, they start to get a feel for that ethos of ranching,” Campbell said. “We want to be able to transport them to another time and place where it is really walking into another time and place. Whether it’s our 1840s log cabin or the 1900s Victorian mansion, they get a feel for what it was like to live during those different time periods.”
The museum, which offers interactive and engaging exhibits, is expanding, building a new exhibit. The Cash Family Ranch Life Learning Center is set to be completed at the end of this year. Fully funded by the Cash Family Foundation, the learning center will be an indoor/outdoor facility centered around Hank the Cowdog and ranch life. The exhibit will include barns, a mystery to solve and a river that actively flows through its entirety. The learning center’s purpose is to give people a first-hand experience that they cannot find anywhere else. But this is not the only museum that institutes these principles.
Similarly, the FiberMax Center for Discovery, located in East Lubbock, is a museum-turned-center that has developed over the years and worked to stay relevant and interesting. Originally a museum, the facility has evolved into a center, this means that instead of solely showcasing historical artifacts, books and documents, most of the exhibits are interactive and relate to present day agriculture.
Hoelting, who has been the executive director for 13 years, said that becoming a more interactive and engaging center was always the plan. This year, the center will break ground on their “Phase Three,” which includes the Agworks Children’s Literacy Wing and Cotton Heritage Center.
The museum’s hope is to continue to provide opportunities for people to connect to the food they eat and the fiber they wear every day.
“Sometimes we take for granted the abundant food supply that we have as Americans, the food security we experience as a country,” Hoelting said. “I’m hoping the visitors that come here, and when they leave they have a new appreciation for just how far we’ve come in agriculture.”
The NRHC and the FiberMax center are building new exhibits with programs targeted at all ages that complement each other. The FiberMax wing will cover grades fourth and below while the NRHC’s new addition will be aimed at students grades fourth and above. This is just one way that museums in the area are working to educate future generations about agriculture.
Lubbock boasts of other museums, such as the Silent Wings Museum, Buddy Holly Center and American Windmill Museum, all of which add to the area’s heritage and atmosphere. From the history of World War II military glider program to the life and legacy of musician Buddy Holly to the history and future sustainability of windmills, there is not a topic that is not covered.
While Lubbock’s museums and centers cover various topics, they have one characteristic in common: They each celebrate humanity. Each works to support the other and uphold the tradition of community that is a pillar of Lubbock.
The Museum of Texas Tech University has an expansive art collection, and Director Pan said the exhibit specifically expresses creativity and inspiration.
Those are very important in terms of the art, I think it’s one of those things that sort of helps with creativity and inspiration, and again, a celebration of humanity as well,” Pan said.
Hoelting described the FiberMax Center for Discovery’s celebration as one of survival. Without the advances in food and fiber, born out of the agriculture industry, the world would not be fed and clothed as it is today. She wants everyone who enters the center to understand the sacrifice and grit it took to get to where agriculture is today.
“We have volunteers in their 80s that actually used that equipment on the farm and in production,” Hoelting said. “Then you have their children that come in and that maybe sat at grandpa’s farm or that they drove the equipment once or twice, but they never used it to make a living. Well, then you get their kids in here and they’re like, oh, there’s a tractor, but they don’t understand the story behind it. So, trying to build exhibits and wings that can tell that story to all those different perspectives, that’s what we’re going toward.”
FiberMax Center for Discovery volunteer and two-time alumni of Texas Tech, Lee Leonard, helps institute this vision. In addition to leading tours, he has helped research and write programs for museum exhibits.
“Well, I would like for them to get a vision of what agriculture was like and what it is going to be,” Leonard said with a bright smile.
FiberMax Center for Discovery Board President Dan Taylor has a passion for celebrating and commemorating agriculture. Every year he hosts the center’s spring event, Party on the Prairie, at his house. Guests gather to enjoy food cooked in chuck wagon and dance to a live band in Taylor’s barns, located near Wolfforth, Texas. He is all in with the museum and whole-heartedly believes in its mission.
Taylor and his wife, Linda, are sponsoring part of the Cotton Heritage Center, half of Phase Three in FiberMax’s expansion plan. (The other half is the AgWorks Children’s Literacy Wing.) Celebrating cotton and its advances is something about which Taylor is passionate, fueling his desire to give of his time and resources.
“Studying the past and preserving the history and heritage of the past is very important,” Taylor said. “I took a really big interest in particularly focusing on another side of it, cotton. And in the cotton ginning industry, I’ve taken a real interest in trying to preserve and restore a lot of the artifacts from the cotton industry specifically.”
Johnson, at the Lubbock Lake Landmark, is proud of what their exhibits celebrate. From living to inanimate aspects, she enjoys each one.
“Our exhibits are a celebration of heritage,” said Johnson. “Cultural, natural heritage. That is life. You look at cultural heritage and part of natural heritage, but we go beyond that. When we talk about the heritage of the region, we’re also looking at the geology, we are looking at landforms, we’re looking at the changing landscape.
“When I say it’s a celebration of the regional heritage, it involves all of that, not just people, and not just life. The whole framework for all of that is the geology, the landscape, the landforms and water.”
At NRHC, Campbell enjoys sharing ranch life with every generation. Annually, the center hosts an all-in ranching event called Ranch Day. The event provides an opportunity for individuals of all ages to experience ranch life first-hand. NRHC partners with organizations across Texas Tech campus to put on the event. Guests can talk with meat science majors about the different cuts of beef that come from cattle or participate in a stick horse rodeo with the Texas Tech rodeo team.
“It’s just a chance for us to get to interact with the public on a really intimate level and get to share the ranching story in a fun environment,” Campbell said.
Celebration is at the center of each museum. Whether it is celebrating cultures or technological advances or the past, the institutions are ensuring future generations can experience and understand them.
As Taylor said, “You don’t ever stop learning.”
Several of the museums are leaving legacies that will be a part of the Lubbock community for generations to come.
The FiberMax Center for Discovery has been working since 2015 to raise funds for its Phase Three project. The wing will house over 5,000 square feet of exhibits for children and adults to grow in their understanding about where their food and fiber comes from. This, in addition to the rest of the center, will provide learning opportunities for all generations.
Hoelting said museums and centers have a reputation for being places where you can look but not touch. She wants to change that with the children’s wing. With the new addition, she hopes the center will give everyone an opportunity to experience agriculture.
“I just want it to be something that grandpa and son and grandson, they can all come, and each get a different experience, but they can all do it together. A multi-generational attraction.”
Johnson agrees as she’s watched various generations tour and work at the Lubbock Lake Landmark. Members of past excavating crews have kids who are now a part of Johnson’s current ones. She said generational attendance is an important aspect of keeping the landmark running.
“There’s that interrelation that has gone on through time,” said Johnson. “I think that’s a significant aspect. We must be doing something right if we have this generation that keeps coming back and passing things on.”
Campbell is seeing similar legacies developing at the ranching center.
“We’re seeing lots of young families that want to get involved because I think there’s a real appreciation for the culture and the history and being able to pass that on to subsequent generations,” said Campbell.
At Southwest Collections, Marshall ensures that every donation is being properly preserved so that future generations can enjoy the information.
“When people donate their items here, their minds will be put at ease, that it’s going to be in a safe environment, climate controlled, secure, organized and processed and accessible to future researchers,” Marshall said. “And I think that’s probably part of the reason we collect, is preservation and making sure that these items will be available for the long term.”
Volunteers at the National Ranching Heritage Center, called Ranch Hosts, are a way the museum adds authenticity to the experience and ensures the culture and heritage of ranching are preserved.
“We love it when Ranch Hosts are here,” Campbell said. “It enhances the entire experience for guests. Most Saturdays between April and October, Ranch Hosts are doing living history on Saturdays. It gives our guests the opportunity to ask questions and to see how people actually dressed.”
Relationships are also a part of the legacy that the FiberMax Center for Discovery is sustaining.
“I would say there’s been a lot of relationships built,” Hoelting said. “We have a great group of volunteers and board members that are very involved in different aspects of our community. And building those relationships has been a great benefit. Getting to work with our intern program, lots of great communication students and students from the Davis College of Agriculture, has been really beneficial, and hoping we have something they’re interested in and we’re helping them along the way, too.”
Pan wants the community and students at Texas Tech to see the Museum of Texas Tech University as a resource.
“It’s also to stimulate lifelong learning because that’s very important too,” Pan said. “We want students to obviously enjoy their time at Tech, but that this is a major resource for them and to see what is available. And as I said, there’s something for everybody here.”
Taylor has been building a legacy for years. However, it has never been about him. He just wants to ensure the future of agriculture and encourage future generations to be involved.
I hope I leave them the importance of giving back,” Taylor said as he laughed.
“And I think this is something we need to teach more of to the young ones. I’ve reaped a lot of benefits, not from people monetarily giving me money, but giving me opportunities and believing in and mentoring me. And I hope, I’ve tried to do that in my occupation, be a positive influence on people. I hear a lot of people that are negative about what they’re doing and I’m proud to be in agriculture.”
Although the museums contain histories and stories of the past, it is obvious they are invested in the future. Legacy and the celebration of that heritage is a common theme among them. Together they are dedicated to making that information available to their guests.
The past is not hidden. In Lubbock, there are so many places for you to find it. Histories, cultures, heritages, legacies that existed long ago, have not been forgotten. From pre-historic to modern, past times and modern ones are on display. The next time you want to escape to a different time or transport your kids to a new world, consider sticking close to home. The mysteries of time are living in your backyard.