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From another era

By Staff | Jun 17, 2011

Looking at the Victorian Dress Museum, one can tell it is a place from another time. Open since summer 1992, owner Marilyn Niewoehner gives tours of the museum at three dollars per person.

Upon walking in, one sees a wood ceiling and trusses, and dresses of various styles and colors. The museum contains swimwear, hoop skirts, wedding dresses, walking suits, kangaroo pouches, knickerbockers and bustles – all from 1860 to 1907. There are also dresses worn by school teachers, and by Medora, the wife of the Marquis de Mores, herself.

The museum is anything but typical. The dresses inside are reproductions that Niewoehner made by hand. Compared to the clothing in the Prairie Village Museum and in the Costume Museum of Winnepeg, most of the clothing displayed in each of those places is authentic, but the dresses in the Victorian Dress Museum are period-correct.

Niewoehner made the dresses after seeking advice from historical pattern companies and by looking at magazines and family photos. Attempting to stay as accurate as possible, she has used natural fibers such as cotton, linen, silk and wool and some incorrect fibers like polyester, acetate and rayon (in the event of natural fibers being inaccessible) in the dress production. She has entered them in historically correct contests held during Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In these contests she has won first, second and third prizes, as well as best-in-show three years in a row. In addition to making and winning prizes for the dresses, Niewoehner has also worn them, along with gloves, hats and other features to match, in style shows throughout the state. She doesn’t consider what she does work.

“I consider it fun,” she said. “Wearing them was also fun, to a point.”

The museum attracts museum clothing designers, young girls, women who like to sew, and people who have an interest in fabric, theatrical costuming and historical fashions. To book a tour stop by Embroideries at 217 2nd Ave SW in Rugby, or call 776-2189.

The building

Although the museum is close to 20 years old, the building that houses it has been there longer.

At one time it was the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Construction began in Sept. 1903, and it was dedicated in early 1905. It received glass windows from a church in New York City, the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which had been torn down six years prior, at a shipping cost of 40 dollars.

The church closed in 1978, and it was secularized in 1991. That fall, Dale Niewoehner bought the building. In December 1992, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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