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Preserving Agriculture’s Rich Heritage

By Kelly Padgett

Nelda Laney

Nelda Laney

Although modern technology and advances have replaced antique agricultural equipment, products and services throughout the years, some communities and locales still are preserving the rich history of agriculture. Texas’ State Capitol building in Austin is just one location of a museum of farming history and preservation.

The Capitol building, which first opened in 1888, included a room that displayed agriculture products, equipment and building supplies. During the course of many years of renovations made to the building, several offices replaced the agriculture room. However, when the Capitol was renovated again in 1993, Texas’ Speaker of the House of Representatives James E. “Pete” Laney chose to return the room back to its original agricultural purpose. His wife, Nelda, was selected to oversee rebuilding the room with historic artifacts and materials to create the Capitol building’s Agricultural Museum.

The Agricultural Museum is open to the public during the Capitol’s business hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. On average, one million people tour the Capitol each year. Four cabinets and three display pieces from the original agriculture room were returned to the museum along with many farming supplies and goods from the past. Mrs. Laney stocked the museum with donation and loan items she received from Texas farmers and other agriculture groups.

A feature item in the museum is the original Texas charter for the Future Farmers of America (FFA). With the exception of the FFA charter, which is dated in the late 1920s, everything found in the museum today is originally dated prior to 1920 including a corn shucker, milk bottles and lids, branding irons, and journals and letters about agriculture issues. Mrs. Laney says the letters and journals preceed irrigation systems in Texas farming procedures, yet the authors had explored the possibilities and discoveries of “watering the ground from underneath.” Grain dealers and extension agents also were among the writers of some of the historic letters and journals.

Pete Laney

Pete Laney

The museum also is home to the original set of weights and measures of Texas. This set includes measures for liquids, dry material and poundage.

A display devoted to cotton also is in the museum. With donations from Texas Tech University and the Texas A&M Experiment Station in Lubbock, the display includes cottonseed, oil, plants, spun thread and finished materials.

Texas State Preservation Board provided old photos from the original agriculture room to recreate displays of such items as canned fruits and vegetables. These canned items are a favorite museum attraction for classes touring the Capitol, according to Laney.

Speaker and Mrs. Laney recognized the need for showcasing historical elements of the agriculture industry partially because of their background in farming. In addition to his elected office, Speaker Laney is a cotton farmer near Hale Center, TX, and Mrs. Laney’s father worked in the cotton industry in Plainview, TX, managing Plainview Cooperative Compress for many years.

Mrs. Laney says they understand the importance of keeping the museum going so visitors can remember or learn about past practices as well as the progression of agriculture into the present.

Other Farm and Ranch Museums to Visit

For more information, contact the respective city’s chamber of commerce or the Texas Department of Transportation at

  • The Crosby County Pioneer Memorial in Crosbyton features 45,000 artifacts of home and family living, chronological history exhibits, military life, farming and ranching collections and murals depicting the historic people of West Texas.
  • The Hale County Farm and Ranch Museum in Hale Center features vintage farm equipment, horse-drawn threashing machines, early irrigation pumps and tractors.
  • Shallowater has these two historic museums featuring agriculture: The Lubbock County Museum and Heritage Farm.
  • The windmill museum of theAmerican Wind Power Centerof Lubbock has the largest number of restored windmills in the world.
  • The Sandcrawl Museum in Olton focuses on early farming and ranching families with displays including paintings and an old windmill.
  • The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is located on the West Texas A&M University campus in Canyon and features pioneers of Texas, wildlife exhibits and cultural collections.
  • The Fort Bend County Historical Museum in Richmond features the plantation era, the ranching era and the sugar and cotton industries.
  • The National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock showcases windmills, dugouts, barns, ranch homes, livestock cars and more.
  • The American Cotton Museumfound in Greenville displays historic cotton-related artifacts and memoribilia.
  • One can tour a historic landmark of a working 1914 gin at theBurton Farmers Gin in Brenham.