The Henderson Depot Museum and Children’s Discovery Center offers a cultural and educational experience for all ages, featuring the historic town’s enduring heritage. The Depot campus and downtown Henderson still feature buildings that date before the Civil War, plus many others recognized as historic landmarks.
The Depot itself is much more than a museum — it’s one of 12 or more restored historic structures that invite visitors into the past and experience it first hand. Docents lead tours around the five-acre park and inside the buildings when weather conditions are favorable.
Two structures are recognized Texas Historical Markers: The Walling Cabin, built in 1841, and the Arnold Outhouse — the state’s only outhouse with a historical marker. A restored, fully-operational cotton gin is another highlight of the tour. Other structures include a carousel, a train caboose, a printing shop, a sawmill, an oil derrick, and a dry goods store.
The Depot is located at 514 North High Street near downtown Henderson, and serves as grounds for the annual Heritage Syrup Festival the second week in November (canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19). The festival celebrates the tradition of ribbon cane syrup making, powered the old-fashioned way, by mules. The Syrup Festival is the largest of its kind in the region, drawing thousands each year, featuring folk art and craft demonstrations.
Inside the Depot are many treasures from Rusk County’s earliest days. Visitors can view Native American artifacts, an original covered wagon, a one-room schoolhouse, and a historic kitchen.
Illustrated displays feature significant phases of Henderson’s past. Historic eras include Native American life, early farm settlements, a destructive downtown fire in 1860, and arrival of the railroad in 1874, which connected Henderson to Overton in northern Rusk County and the rest of the world. Built in 1901, the Depot represents the town’s connection to the outside world on the Missouri-Pacific Railway, which still runs through town.
During the oil boom of 1930, Henderson became one of the largest boomtowns in East Texas, swelling from 2,000 to more than 10,000 people in a few months.
In another chapter of Henderson’s history, the airfield served as a remote training destination for British Royal Air Force cadets. The airmen practiced flying from the Terrell, Texas, airbase, to Henderson — the exact distance from London, England, to Dunkirk, France.
The Children’s Discovery Center offers many hands-on activities that encourage discovery and developmental growth for young children.
The Depot is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information about the Depot Museum and Children’s Discovery Center, visit www.depotmuseum.com. Call (903) 657-4303 to confirm availability of outdoor tours.