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Chapman: Museum season is here

By Staff | Apr 25, 2014

I really should have scheduled Tuesday’s tour of the Prairie Village Museum for late afternoon instead of late morning. After a nearly two-hour introduction to the museum from executive director Cathy Jelsing, my imagination ran wild the entire afternoon.

It was hard to focus on work after the sunny spring day allowed my winter-wearied eyes to glance over the artifacts without shivering.

My goodness, I really had no idea how big this museum was going to be! We started in Old Main and worked our way through every structure. Each of the 23 historic buildings and the six exhibition halls are packed with history about an area I’m growing increasingly fond of.

The schools really stuck out on my mind. The Juniata School is a quaint one-room building with rows of old wooden desks with iron legs. The bookshelf was filled with books, including classics, and a collection of pull-down maps begged to be explored. Students really sat in this place at one point and kept warm in the winter with the primitive old stove.

We stopped in the Zion Lutheran Church next and it was easy to picture packed pews of people and the choir booming from behind up in the loft.

The Silva School was next and quickly became my favorite. That place is loaded with history and it’ll probably take a couple days to get through it all. The room on the left when you enter is dedicated to Silva School, specifically, and is proof of how important the museum is to our area. It may have taken only one person to fill that room with information, but it took hundreds of people to donate the countless artifacts found throughout the entire museum.

Although, I don’t have any family history there, it still fascinates me to see the last names of neighbors and friends in Pierce County and the surrounding area. I’m jealous that I didn’t grow up in an area that relishes its history as people do here.

The massive mounted map of Pierce County in the Silva School marks original homesteads and includes unique details that will have the Tribune busy doing research for some time. A black family settled in Pierce in the first decade of the 20th century. What’s their story? I hope to find out. Multiple schoolhouses in many of the townships? Hard to imagine, but maybe some remnants are still out there waiting to share more.

Already, I’ve spent time reading up on the internet about Clifford Thompson, the 8-foot-7 giant born near Silva. Tracking down some of his family might be a fun project down the line, but until then I’ll be back in the Silva School reading about him and looking at the great pictures of one of the tallest men in history.

My curiosity may need to be checked from time to time because that map alone has hundreds of stories that will further enhance my understanding of how Pierce County came to be today. And work and writing aside, the entertainment value of a museum of this magnitude is never ending. I can’t wait for the Village Fair and to see some of this history come to life.

I’ve mentioned a fraction of a percent of what you can see at the museum, which opens for school tours next week.

I hope to see many of you out there this summer and can’t wait to hear your stories of how the buildings, displays and artifacts relate to your family history. Before that, I hope to see many people supporting the museum tomorrow at the Spring Kick-Off at Rugby Eagles Club. Cartoonist/historian Steve Stark will present an illustrated history of Teddy Roosevelt at 1:15 p.m., and a Sausage, Dumplings and Kraut dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the freewill offering.

The museum preserves much of our area’s history and it’s important that we do our best to support and enhance this rich collection. A cleaning day is scheduled for May 4 and will be a great way to help out and maybe even learn a thing or two about your family history that you never knew! Museum season is here!

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