Whether your interest is old guns and antiques, historic buildings or just getting a glimpse into the way people lived in the past, the Karnes County Museum Complex in Helena offers a wealth of things to see for local residents and visitors alike.
The museum, which is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday, offers nine separate attractions, including the Sickenius farm house, post office, courthouse, a one room school, old barn, covered wagon, jail cell, Masonic lodge and the Ruckman house which towers over the countryside.
Helping to oversee operations is curator Ramona Noone, who has worked with the Karnes County Historical Society since 2004. The museum has come a long way since then.
“When I started in December 2004 they didn’t have a curator, and it was unknown who had keys to the different buildings,” Noone said. Organizing the museum was a top priority, and Noone’s 28 years of working as a business manager for the California prison system helped with the process.
“We had to be extremely organized, know where everything was and have documentation for everything,” she said. “I relied on that background and experience when I came here.”
Noone graduated from Karnes City High School in 1969 and from Bee County College in 1971 – the same year she moved to California. She stayed there until 2002, when she retired and moved back to Karnes County to be closer to her mother.
“She lived to be 100 years and six months old, so it was a real blessing to get back here and be able to spend time with her,” Noone said. “When I moved back here, it was boring at first – everything closed at 5 p.m. Finally, I saw an advertisement for museum curator. I applied and they hired me right away.”
Noone said she spent six weeks doing an inventory of all the items at the museum, and has worked closely with museum employees Alicia and Luis Balderamos, who split time with her in greeting visitors at the museum.
“They are both wonderful people, hard working and do a great job,” Noone said.
The museum is overseen by the Karnes County Historical Society, led by President Mae Zaunbrecher.
One of the main areas of the museum is a historic post office building which was donated to the museum in 1976 and moved from across the street. The building was once part of a general store owned by John and Thomas Ruckman.
The post office was on a stagecoach route connecting San Antonio to Helena.Among the items on display is a reproduced image of a stamp that the Helena Post Office was authorized to issue during the Civil War. An original “Helena 5” stamp, if discovered today, is estimated to be worth at least $5,000.
The old Karnes County Courthouse is the largest building on the museum’s main property, and the trials once held there were popular community events in the 1800s.
Museum material notes that, “when a defendant was found guilty of a major crime, he was marched down the stairs and immediately hung from the large oak tree in front of the Masonic Lodge.”
A one room school was later opened at the courthouse around 1896 century and operated there until 1945.
While the upstairs portion of the courthouse features an old courtroom and school, the downstairs portion has several items on display, including old photographs of Karnes County, clothes from the 1800s and early 1900s, an old barber/dental chair, dinosaur bones found in 1833 in a local creek bed, antique china and glassware and old guns.
The Sickenius House, a prime example of a late 19th century or early 20th century farmhouse, shows how Texans lived during that time period, in homes that had no indoor plumbing.
Originally built in 1899 in the Gillett area, the house, built by George Sickenius for his family, was moved to the museum complex in 1986.
Air conditioning was later added to the house, which has served as a meeting place for a women’s group which made quilts there to raise money for the museum’s operating expenses.
The John Ruckman House located nearby, at 526 County Road 300, is an example of a much more luxurious and significantly larger home from early Karnes County history.YThis home was built with cypress lumber transported from Florida and shipped to Indianola before that Texas port was wiped out by a hurricane in 1875 (and later 1886).
John Ruckman moved his family to Karnes County in 1857 to join his brother Thomas. John served as postmaster and was a banker, merchant, farmer and rancher. He and his wife Eliza had eight children, and two of them, Hester and Margaret, lived in the home until 1958.
In 1967 the family gave the land to the Helena Foundation – which later became part of the county historical society. The stately old home is still being renovated today.