Smithville suffered a devastating loss when a fire destroyed the city’s museum early Sunday morning.
The building, which housed the railroad museum, chamber of commerce office and the visitors center at the James H. Long Railroad Historical Park, was totally destroyed. According to Smithville Chamber of Commerce executive director April Daniels, surveillance cameras captured an individual breaking into the building and leaving within four minutes of entry. The fire began soon after the break-in.
It doesn’t appear that anything was stolen, but the building is a complete loss, according to the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department, which investigated the fire.
Daniels was visibly heartbroken over the incident, but was glad no lives were lost. The desk where she sat, which came from the original depot, was destroyed in the fire. The building, which was built in 1991 by Vietnam War veterans, was recently remodeled and celebrated with a ribbon cutting and open house on January 31. Many of the veterans who built the original building were heartbroken as they visited the scene of the fire on Sunday.
The city owns the building and will be offering a reward not to exceed $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the crime. The council will discuss the incident on Thursday.
The building is insured by the city, and the Chamber has insurance to cover some of its contents, but donations are now sought to cover other costs, such as restoring artifacts from the museum. Some artifacts were salvaged due to the quick response by the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department, the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department and the Smithville Police Department. Both Daniels and Dave Fehlker, president of the Smithville Railroad Park Board, expressed gratitude to these organizations for their hard work.
“Some Katy Railroad artifacts and uniforms were completely destroyed,” Fehlker said. “Anyone willing to donate any items to help replace the lost items with any old Katy stuff would be appreciated, as the group plans to rebuild the building and find items to place in the museum.”
Monetary donations can be made to First National Bank in Smithville.