Displayed on a mannequin, a brown wedding dress worn in 1897 serves as a reminder that, at the time, dresses purchased for the big day often could be worn to do housework later.

The dress is one of about two dozen on display at the History of West Museum as part of a new exhibit, “A Century of Bridal Dresses,” which opens Saturday.

Dresses give a glimpse into the Czech heritage in West. Women and families from the area loaned their grandmothers’ or mothers’ dresses for the exhibit, museum board member Kay Sulak said.

Each dress is displayed with a short history next to it that provides background on the person who wore it as vows were read.

At the age of 13 and after the death of her father, Anastacia Ondracek traveled by covered wagon from South Texas to the West area, where she worked as a maid. She met C.E. Hykel, who saw her one day from the hay loft when she visited his farm. She wore the dress on display in the couple’s marriage in 1913. In 1985, her great-granddaughter, Ann Helona Popp, wore the dress to her rehearsal dinner.

Lillian Bezdek’s dress was worn July 19, 1950, during her marriage to Danny Urbanovsky. It was handmade and designed to look like a picture Bezdek saw in a bridal magazine, according to the exhibit.

Meanwhile, “The Bride Wheel,” similar to the revolving wall of pictures that served as a fixture in front of Urbanovsky Studio in West in the 1950s and 1960s, is also on display, Sulak said. The display allowed people to scroll through photos on a machine that used bicycle chains and an electric motor.

Visitors who drop by the 1896 building that once housed a Ben Franklin five-and-dime discount store at 112 E. Oak St. in West from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday can enjoy a bride or groom cake, among other treats, as they wander throughout the building admiring, and voting on, dresses. The exhibit will remain up through July 8 and be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The exhibit is free, and the museum on Oak Street accepts donations to help keep the nonprofit operation running.

Sulak was inspired to do the temporary exhibit last year, museum board President Nancy Hykel said. At the time, volunteers were preparing the memorial room, which had its dedication in October, she said. Hykel chipped in with her grandmother’s dress, and another dress was brought in for display as late as Thursday, she said.

The exhibit includes more than just dresses, though. Its “Romance by Mail” section features a series of love letters between West resident Henrietta Kracmer and George Meurer, an Army soldier stationed in Alaska. The letters precede the couple’s marriage in 1955.

They were connected through the Corry Club, an organization for people wanting to become pen pals. Members, who had to be Catholic, single or widowed, and at least 16 years old, received a monthly bulletin listing people they could correspond with, along with age, occupation, hobbies and interests.

Sulak said many women in West back in the day got married on Mondays, and it wasn’t until later that the weekend became the more popular choice. There is also a display of wedding-cake toppers, including one that is more than 100 years old, she said.

The dresses are on display throughout the museum, which also has a room dedicated to the West News and features displays about St. Mary’s Catholic Church of the Assumption and about 1890s businesses, including the West Bank, Nemecek Brothers Meat Market and local saloons.

Another room is dedicated to the April 17, 2013, fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters and first responders, injured hundreds and damaged scores of homes and buildings.

The explosion happened three days after the museum board bought its building.

Since the museum opened in 2015, the community has provided wonderful support through donations and at fundraisers, Hykel said.

“Even the other day there’s a young lady, she’s 33, she lives in the Dallas area, and she came in and she was absolutely charming,” Hykel said. “She had served in the military for, like, nine years and such, young and pleasant, and when she left she wrote a check and she put it in the donation box. Later we found out she’d donated $200. Just like that. She’s 33. She was really impressed.”

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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