Just a few years ago, more than 3,000 visitors in a year viewed artifacts and displays at the Military Museum of Fort Worth, nestled in a residential neighborhood on the city’s west side.
Last year, just about 1,000 visitors came.
The drop in attendance and lack of funding are the reasons the small, eight-year-old museum at 712 Dorothy Lane — with more than 15,000 displays and artifacts — is closing its doors March 11.
The museum includes items from World War I, World II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.
“We really don’t know why people stopped coming,” said executive director Tyler Alberts Thursday in a telephone interview. Alberts is the director of Organization for Texas Military Education, which operates the museum. “We get likes on Facebook, but there’s apparently no desire to come see it.”
In the last two years, about 85 percent of the visitors have been from out-of-state or out-of-town.
The decrease in attendance also meant a drop in donations. Alberts estimated that it takes about $17,500 each year to operate the museum with 40 percent coming from donations and 60 percent from members of Organization for Texas Military Education.
Alberts said he may have been naive when the museum opened in July 2009.
“I was thinking like that “Field of Dreams” movie, if you build it, they will come,” Alberts said. “They did at first.”
With hundreds of artifacts, Alberts said volunteers would rotate displays every five months, closing for 30 days each time to make the transition.
Alberts noted that members of the organization were mostly historians and veterans with middle-class incomes and a passion for military history.
“We never found that person or organization with the money to help fund the museum,” Alberts said.
Volunteer Chris Hankins, who has worked at the museum since it opened, said he had mixed emotions about the closing.
“It’s been a pleasure to let people see what we have,” Hankins said Thursday. “It’s sad that it’s time to end it.”
Admission is free.
Alberts said the organization will try to use the artifacts in a “mobile museum” format, meaning members will set up displays at places such as libraries, retirement centers and convention centers.
But Alberts said he hopes that one day a military museum will open again in Tarrant County.
“If someone decides to take that on, we’d be more than happy to join in,” Alberts said. “Fort Worth has depended on the military for years, and it would be just great to have a museum for the military.”