CULLEN – Members of the Webster Parish Police Jury expressed willingness to help the Town of Cullen in its quest to repair the Cullen Railroad Museum.
Mayor Ray Mills spoke to the jury at February’s meeting about the dire need to protect the cherished memorabilia stored inside.
“What we have is a museum that’s been there probably since the Town of Cullen was established,” he said. “At some point it got into bad need of repair. It was dedicated in 1989, and since I’ve been mayor, I’ve seen a need to get it repaired and bring it back. It would be a good tourist attraction, and we already have a small library, but we have some issues with the structure.”
He says the ceiling tiles and the floor are badly leaking, and several jurors took a tour of the museum Feb. 21. The doors and the roof also need to be replaced, he said. The fence needs to be painted and the exterior needs to be cleaned.
“Whatever we need to do, we need some help,” he said. “It’s a much-needed project. Cullen is a little town and we don’t have the finances to take it on. There’s a lot of International Paper Company memorabilia in there, probably some of our people actually worked there. We’ve got it covered up, and we’re trying to preserve it.”
A small library is also located inside the museum, he said. Cullen Councilwoman Barbara Green says the library is very important to them.
“The children have quite a bit of distance to travel,” she said. “At one time, I was allowing them to check out books, even after the ceiling started to fall, but I couldn’t anymore because of safety reasons.”
She says many of the books are Accelerated Reader books the kids use for school. The museum and library has been closed for roughly six or seven years.
Mills says they are looking into creating a museum board, which will help them in their endeavor to obtain grants or other means of financing to repair the museum.
If the town can get the museum repaired and up and running again, Green says the town can apply for grants and host fundraisers. In order to meet the requirements of any grant, the museum must be made handicapped accessible as well.
Mills says while they are not asking the jury to make a decision at this time, he wanted the jury to know that by the March meeting, they will return before the jury to present a plan of action.
District 9 Juror Jerri Lee told Mills and Green the first step is to get the museum board together. District 10 Juror Vera Davison also suggested the jurors who represent north Webster pool portions of their discretionary funds to help get repairs started.
“Whatever you all donate, I’ll match it with some of my discretionary funds,” Davison said.
The town could also apply for the grant, District 1 Juror Bruce Blanton suggested.
“The Town of Cullen owns the building,” he said. “In the meantime, they could go ahead and form a board; but right now, the town would be the board.”
Discussion of repairing the museum came up in December 2015 meeting during budget discussions for 2016. The police jury already contributes to the Dorcheat Historical Museum in Minden, and District 2 Police Juror Allen Gilbert asked the jury to consider taking on the Cullen Railroad Museum.
However, Jury President Jim Bonsall, District 6, says while he wants to help Cullen fix the structure of the museum, he wants to “get out of the museum business.”
“It’s one thing to work on the structure, it’s another thing to support a museum altogether,” he said. “Personally, I want to see the parish get out of the museum business whether it be in the north end or the south end. I think we have expenditures that we have to do.”
Bonsall says he wants to see a plan of action and how it will be funded if the jury decides to use funding from discretionary or economic development to help them fix the structure.
The police jury budgeted $25,000 for the Dorcheat Historical Museum and $20,000 for Cultural Crossroads under its arts and museum line items in the 2016 budget.