For the first time in years, the Old Red Courthouse in downtown Dallas will again be used as a courthouse. And the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History, which has occupied the space since 2007, will be moving.
“Dispersed is not the right word,” museum director Evelyn Montgomery says. “And the most important thing is that the museum’s collection and all items are safe under our care and insured. But instead of being all in one building, we will have the opportunity to spread our mission and our exhibits out over probably seven county buildings: three of them in the West End and then four satellite government centers where they would like to have some history displays.”
Plans to make the historic 1892 courthouse a courthouse again have been gestating for several years. Worries about relatively anemic attendance at a museum dedicated to local history—and what it costs Dallas County—have been around for even longer. As have concerns over how to make a big 19th century courthouse with its airy spaces and high ceilings function as office space for attorneys and county employees.
But now it’s official: Following renovations that are scheduled for early next year, the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals will move in, vacating its current digs at the George Allen Courthouse across the street.
“The courthouse would still be accessible to the public,” Montgomery says. “They might have to sign up to go on a tour or something, but they could still get in and see it. The architect working on the project template respects both the building and the work that James Pratt did in the redesign in the early 2000s.”
The Old Red Museum has been closed since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, Montgomery is the museum’s director and sole staffer. When field trips pick back up, and the museum gets settled in its seven new locations, Montgomery says they’ll bring on educators to lead tours.
In the meantime, Montgomery has been doing an inventory of the museum’s possessions—returning some loaned artifacts to their owners during this weird interregnum—and hosting the last few private events booked at Old Red.
“We’re about to have the last one, a small dinner party,” she says. “And those people will probably be the last to enjoy the rental facilities.”
Then it’s on to whatever comes next.
“This is a rebirth,” Montgomery says. “We’ve been open for 14 years. It was time to re-examine things. The things that have worked so well, we’re going to spread them out and offer them to more people.”