Helen Marie Taylor is a native Wacoan who has dedicated her life to preserving history through her efforts in museums, organizations, and foundations. She worked on a council for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and served as president for both the James Monroe Memorial Foundation and the James Madison Museum. In an attempt to preserve the local history of her hometown, Taylor focused her efforts on opening a local history museum in Waco, Texas: The Helen Marie Taylor Museum of Waco History, also referred to as the Taylor Museum.
Many citizens of Waco showed interest in the idea of a local history museum centering on the need to connect to one’s past through the story of the community. Many believed this museum would help them better understand where they came from and how their community developed into what it is today. Helen Marie Taylor bought the old Barron Springs Elementary School in the 1980s and began restoring it in order to create her museum. Starting in 1991, she held a few public gatherings in the museum, and it officially opened in 1993.
The Taylor Museum focused on many different aspects of Waco history. For instance, one of the exhibits concerned the Waco Indians. The museum staff thought it was very important to give homage to the first people who lived in the Waco area, especially considering that the Taylor Museum is located on the land that held the homes of many of these Indians. This exhibit included artifacts, images of what the area might have looked like at the time, and even sounds of what it might have sounded like at the time.
Two exhibits portraying well-known aspects of Waco history reside on the second floor of this building. One room presents a detailed to-scale model of the Branch Davidian compound. Another portrays the Cotton Palace, which served as the center of Waco for several years, as cotton was the staple of Waco’s economy following the Civil War. The size of this exhibit, compared to the others in the Taylor Museum, reveals the Cotton Palace's importance in Waco history.
Perhaps the most well-known display in the Taylor Museum is the “We the People…” exhibit, which focuses on American history in the colonial period. Helen Marie Taylor had a love for early American history and used the museum to present this history to Waco through artifacts such as George Washington’s silk vest, a musket from the Revolutionary War, and a chair from the Constitutional Convention.
Though the museum shows many other aspects of Waco’s history than those described here, it passes over some important aspects such as the Chisholm Trail, the Waco Tornado, and the educational history of Waco. The Taylor Museum closed just five years after its opening due to problems with the board of directors and a lack of variation in exhibits, causing public disinterest.
However, the museum has not sat empty since its closure. Various organizations, including the Historic Waco Foundation, recently met with Helen Marie Taylor to discuss reopening the museum. These groups recognize the important role the Taylor Museum played in connecting individual histories through the community’s past. The discussions reflect the organizations’ desire to reopen the museum and diversify the exhibits in order to portray a true sense of the Waco community. Currently, groups of ten or more people are allowed to take self-guided tours of the museums and school groups may visit on field trips.