The Coryell Museum and Historical Center was founded in 1980 when the remnants of several local historical associations were combined into one entity. The museum's first home was in an abandoned lumber yard which, with the tireless work of volunteers, was transformed into an attractive collection of local historical artifacts and documents. The museum's primary effort was, and still is, the collection, preservation, and display of items related to the settling and building of Central Texas, from the days of the Republic of Texas to today.
As the museum's collection grew over the years, it became obvious that the old Graham Lumber Yard complex would soon be too small. The museum's board of directors agreed to develop a plan for a new facility. At the same time, a museum consulting firm was retained to produce a long-range plan for the organization. A master plan was produced, and several suggested floor plans and exhibit designs were submitted by the consulting service.
During the period of planning and expansion, the Coryell Museum and Historical Center was chosen by the family of Lloyd and Madge Mitchell as the repository of a very extensive collection of western memorabilia and sports artifacts that had been accumulated by Coach Mitchell over a lifetime of trading and collecting. As acquisition documentation commenced on the collection, it became apparent that the Mitchell Family had given the museum what is now recognized as the largest collection of spurs in the United States, perhaps in the world.
The need for additional exhibit room with improved security became more urgent as the size and scope of the Mitchell Collection unfolded. As the museum board of directors made plans to build a new building, Houston based businessman Wes Gilbreath, who was born and raised in Coryell County, offered to donate a parcel of commercial property he owned in the 800 block of Main Street to the museum. The heart of the property is the Old Powell Hardware Building on the corner of 8th and Main Street. Originally built in 1904, the building had been renovated by Mr. Gilbreath in the early 1980's and was used for a time as a mini-mall that housed small business operations on the ground floor, with a restaurant and private club on the top floor. After a few years the restaurant and businesses closed and Gilbreath turned his entrepreneurial efforts in other directions. Although the property had fallen into disrepair, the museum board recognized the possibilities offered by the buildings, and agreed to accept Mr. Gilbreath's offer. After formally accepting the property, the board members began to seek financial support from the community. The project was given a tremendous boost with the agreement by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide members of the local TDCJ community squads to help with construction and renovation efforts. The many inmates who have worked on the building project over the years has truly made the current facility possible.
Part of the property given by Gilbreath included the Burt Building which adjoins the museum facility. In 1999, the Burt Building was chosen as the centerpiece property for Gatesville's Main Street USA designation. Also, then Texas First Lady Laura Bush, in touring Gatesville, expressed agreement in the choice of the Burt Building as the primary renovation project. The museum also extended its property holdings in the early 1980's by accepting the historic old First Christian Church in the 900 block of East Leon Street from a small group of former church members. Again using construction labor provided by TDCJ inmates and local contractors, the building was brought back to life and is now the scene of several weddings each year. A non-denominational men's Sunday School class also meets regularly in the church building
With strong community support, ambitious publishing programs, and an in-place long range plan, the museum will continue to play an important role in the preservation and exhibit of Central Texas history and culture.