Larry O’Neal has had a near-lifelong affection for the city of Fort Worth.
Owner and operator of the Fort Worth Memories Museum which opened in 2014, O’Neal, 71, said that his mission is to leave a documented account of the history of Fort Worth from 1849 to present day.
“I started collecting deeds and a few other things, and now I’ve got over 89,000 pieces,” O’Neal said.
Growing up in Richland Hills, O’Neal moved to Fort Worth after he graduated high school and has been collecting artifacts and other tidbits for the last 42 years.
“Over the years, a lot of people have come to visit,” O’Neal said. “They are amazed. A big portion of the things in the museum are one of a kind that you can’t duplicate.”
O’Neal, who now lives in Azle, said it started out with him buying items on Ebay, and then he started getting invited to higher class sales, like Christie’s Auction House and Sotheby’s.
And O’Neal spares no expense, spending tens of thousands of dollars on some items.
“I’ve got 20 voter registration books that I bought from Christie’s from 1880 to 1900 in Fort Worth,” O’Neal said. “They were all certified by the county assessor.”
Each book cost $3,000 a piece. One of the city’s major early benefactors is represented as well.
“Amon Carter had 85 keys to the city made that were all photo op keys,” O’Neal said. “And he gave them to presidents and so forth, take pictures with them and then take the keys back. I’ve got 67 of those keys.”
O’Neal estimates that he has spent between $3 and $4 million over the years.
Owner of the Classic Auto Detail shop where he has worked for the last 47 years, O’Neal is fiercely loyal his adopted hometown.
“My museum is the only museum in Fort Worth that is all Fort Worth,” O’Neal said. “There’s no Dallas. In my group, we call Dallas the City to the East.”
O’Neal said his main objective with the museum is for it to serve as a testament to all of the people who made Fort Worth into the city that it is today.
“I want to preserve what it used to be like in Fort Worth,” O’Neal said. “To remind people of what our foremothers and forefathers had to endure for us to have a great city.”
O’Neal has also done bike give aways for the last 36 years, the most recent of which took place at Farrington Field, and presented another potential avenue to acquire more products.
“A guy came over from the Fort Worth ISD, and we set up a contract to do it (the bike give away) for 10 more years,” O’Neal said. “He told me they had sold the old Fort Worth administration building to Bob Bass.
“He said they had a lot of stuff from back in the early 1800s. He said ‘We don’t know if it’s good, bad or whatever. Would you go through it and archive it, and be the curator?’ and I said ‘Certainly.’”
O’Neal, who has more than 6,400 items in his current museum, said his dream is to be in a city-owned building one day.
“I want everyone who comes into the museum to leave satisfied,” O’Neal said. “Usually, people come in there with a specific question, and it feels great to be able to answer them.”
And O’Neal prides himself in his ability to do so.
“I’ve never had anybody ask me a question that I couldn’t answer,” O’Neal said. “I wasn’t very far out of high school when I started getting the itch for Fort Worth history.”
One of his more memorable encounters came with a Fort Worthian named Fisk Hanley, a decorated war veteran who lived to be 100 and was liberated from a Japanese death camp during WWII.
Fisk was a graduate of Carter-Riverside, and O’Neal was able to find his yearbook and present it to him. Fisk then signed the yearbook and donated it back to the museum.
Almost equally impressive to his efforts with the museum is that O’Neal has also gradually built a massive online presence, with multiple Facebook groups including one called Fort Worth Memories.
He also has pages called FWM Restaurants, Roadhouses, Cafes and Menus, Fort Worth Photos, New or Old, and a Fort Worth Sports Group.
“I’ve got a lot of people on Facebook,” O’Neal said. “Since the Internet came along, I’ve started these groups. All of my Facebook groups combined together is more than 190,000 people, and I’ve got about five or six different platforms. We kind of just grew into a group of caring people, and as we’ve aged, we’ve let the city know some of the things that are important to us.”
O’Neal’s group lobbied, for instance, to have the Forest Park miniature train railroad fixed, and are pushing to have LaGrave Field renovated.
“We kind of keep our eyes on how the city’s run and let our voice be heard,” O’Neal said. “People will say, ‘Hey, Larry, we don’t like how this or that is going,’ so I’ll put a poll out there (on Facebook) and send the mayor and city council members the results. We figure they can’t ignore 190,000 people.”
O’Neal conducts live videos throughout the day on varying topics related to Fort Worth, where he interviews local dignitaries and certain celebrities.
He said that Fort Worth has a storied past with rich traditions and said if there was one thing he could emphasize it would be to embrace them.
“What really gets to me is that we don’t teach local history to the extent that I would like to,” O’Neal said. “When kids are in the third or fourth grade, that’s when you really need to start teaching them.”
O’Neal said he loves interacting with the patron’s of his museum and Facebook pages and welcomes anyone who is interested in learning more about the city he loves to visit both.
“I’ve got so many one-of-a-kind things and stuff that is memorable to people that come into the museum, and the good thing is that they don’t just get a look see; they can ask questions,” O’Neal said. “I can answer and really go into detail about everything that’s in there. I’m very passionate about the museum and everything that’s in it.”
The Fort Worth Memories Museum is located at 1633 Rogers Road in Fort Worth in the TCU area.
Tours take approximately one hour and admission is $10 per person.
The museum is open Monday – Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (last tour starts at 1 p.m.), and Sunday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. (last tour at noon).