After three years of waiting, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum is now on its way to Alvin.
Dr. David Karpeles announced last month he would be upgrading the Old First Methodist Church to house the newest branch on his museum, which houses historic manuscripts and makes many of them open to the public.
The old church was built in 1925 and has been abandoned for many years. Because the church was sitting abandoned, it was in poor condition when Karpeles purchased it and needed many upgrades to be useable and to meet Americans for Disabilities Act regulations.
Thanks to the volunteer work of several local residents as well as donations from the city of Alvin and Ron Carter, Karpeles ultimately decided to spend the money to save the historic building and open the first Texas branch of his museum.
Tom Stansel, a volunteer with the Alvin Historic Society, has worked on the project for years. While he has no direct ties to the Karpeles Museum, he said bringing it to Alvin and saving the old Methodist church in the process is a win-win for the city.
“I think it’s a big deal for a couple of reasons,” Stansel said.
The first is easy, the historic part. Karpeles will make historic documents available to the public for free. His museum’s host school children frequently and reinforce the history of the United States and, in some cases, the world.
The second reason Stansel stated is something that could benefit the entire city — tourism.
“When you talk about tourism and bringing people to Alvin, our museum isn’t enough to do it, the cottage isn’t enough to do it, Froberg’s isn’t enough to do,” he said. “You have to put a lot together.”
By adding the Karpeles Museum, Stansel said Alvin could become a mini destination, where people go out of the way when visiting other parts of the region to spend a day in Alvin.
To get to this point in the Alvin museum has not been easy. Karpeles purchased the church in 2011 with the plan of opening a new branch of his museum. But a series of setbacks have delayed and almost stopped any plans.
A year ago, Karpeles paid for an engineering assessment of the building to determine the cost of bringing the building into code compliance. With that plan, the city approved the project and Karpeles agreed to go ahead and make the improvements.
Stansel said local companies that saw the benefit of the museum made the difference. Engineering firm James Thompson and Associates did the engineering assessment and plans at a reduced rate. Local businesses Terry and Jody Droege at TDEC Electric, McCoy’s Building Supplies and Robert Vasquez at Express Roofing and Home Services also agreed to do some of the work at a reduced rate.
With $20,000 from the city, $20,000 from Ron Carter and $3,000 from McCoy’s Building Supply, Karpeles agreed to move ahead with the project.
Karpeles has long been a collector of original manuscripts showcasing the history of the United States.
In his museums, he presents the historic manuscripts to the public.
Some of his collection includes the original Bill of Rights, a cover letter for the Declaration of Independence, a certification signed by Charles Lindbergh when he landed in France, letters from King Phillip to the commander of the Spanish Armada, instruction to Sir Francis Drake to defend against the armada, the original draft of the screenplay of “The Wizard of Oz” and a handwritten draft of Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto.”
When the Alvin museum opens, it will be the 14th branch of the Karpeles Manuscript Library.
The exhibits rotate through the 14 museums, giving each an opportunity to host different historic manuscripts. Currently, the closest museum is in Shreveport, La. At the Shreveport museum, the current exhibit is a display on the world’s first long-distance telephone line.
Some other exhibits currently on display nationwide include maps of the United States, the Stamp Act, the U.S. Navy, successful women in history, early maps of the world and great moments in medical history.
All the museums are free with an emphasis on reaching students around the country. When Karpeles opened his first museum in 1983, reaching children was his primary goal.
"As a child I remember a world filled with hope and pride,”he said.“Those who had pursued their goals, whether successfully or not, reflected their pride and fulfillment. One could feel their excitement in their desire to follow their new and future goals. Those of us too young had hope and looked to the inspiration of our predecessors to give us purpose. The world is no longer so filled. There is little hope and little pride. Our children have no sense of purpose and few goals. They make no commitments for fear that they will make mistakes and fail. They see our mistakes, but are blind to our accomplishments. Their emptiness spreads over us all.
"I, for one, will not accept this. I wish to renew that feeling I had as a child; that hope, that pride, that sense of purpose. I believe that we learned those feelings by our exposure to the accomplishments of our predecessors. We studied history; we studied literature, we studied government, science, philosophy, art and music. Our children have not. They do not know who is Simon Bolivar, Rudyard Kipling, Immanuel Kant, Franklin Pierce, Sir Walter Raleigh, Virginia Dare or Queen Isabella. They are hardly aware of the Quest for the Indies, the Origin of the Species, the discovery of vaccines, the Reformation, the Black Plague, Esperanto, the Peer Gynt Suites, the Rubaiyat, the Magna Carta.
"It is to cure this lack and thereby fulfill my own desire to renew the sense of purpose for our children and ourselves that the Karpeles Manuscript Library has been created."