Merkel Area Historical Museum faces changes, gets new leader

MERKEL, Texas (AP) — It’s the house that Larry built, but what happens now?

The Abilene Reporter-News reports when someone dies, their passing is sure to leave a void in the lives of those around them. With Larry Gill’s death Jan. 3, that hole was especially large because of the question it left behind: What would happen to the Merkel Area Historical Museum?

Larry and his wife, Pat, had children, but the museum was their baby. The newspaper interviewed him about it in 2011.

Both were founding members of the Merkel Historical Society. In 2001, the Chamber of Commerce put an ad in the Merkel Mail newspaper asking for those interested in preserving local history to meet at a local restaurant.

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“About four of us showed up; my wife and I, the chamber manager and one other person,” Larry recalled. “I said, ‘This is a great idea, let’s not give up on this just because there’s only four of us.'”

Their group expanded and the Gills wrote a book called “Merkel Area History,” filling it with local family stories and history. They followed it with a sequel and coupled the book’s proceeds with a donation from Harroll Clemmer to fund the purchase of a building.

The building eventually grew to 13,000 square feet. Gill, who was also the Precinct 2 constable, relished what each day might have brought to them. Like a lot of area museums, people loved donating artifacts from their family’s lives.

“A lot of times they’ll call and ask, but most times they just come in here because they know it’s very rare for me to turn anything down that’s of special interest,” Larry said in 2012.

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On Friday, Jerry Russell laughed over a memory of collecting for the museum with his friend.

“People would call about these old gas pumps,” he said. “We would run out there, find dirt piled all around them, dig them up and bring them in.”

Russell said Larry had a story about each item in the museum. There’s the barbershop chair in which bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd is said to have once sat, or the sheriff’s deputy uniform shirt donated by Don Knotts just two months before the actor died.

March 2 was Texas Independence Day and the museum celebrated with a chili supper, music and Texas trivia.

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Lance Perry is the new president of the museum, as well as senior pastor at First Baptist Church.

“I’m from Merkel, my family moved here in the 1880s-1890s, but I’ve been away for about 30 years,” he said. “With Larry’s passing, this has become more of a team effort. (We are) thinking about how to involve the school, get the word out to the community, and get young people to come and support us.”

Perry, 50, is joined by Milo Harris, 49, as vice president.

“As far as the future goes, we just want (the museum) to continue and to thrive,” Harris said. “Everyone needs to know about our history and to keep it alive.

“That goes not just for Merkel, our history is what makes us what we are today.”


Information from: Abilene Reporter-News,