Museums bring early Marion County life to light
Marion County is rich in more than historic buildings. It’s rich in the heritage of its people. Several museums throughout the county provide glimpses of the lifestyle and determination of settlers who tamed the land.
Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Goessel tells how low-German-speaking Mennonites who came to the area in 1874 settled Goessel in 1874.
“The agricultural part of the museum features artifacts related to the progression of mechanization in farming from the 1800s to the mid-1960s,” museum director Fern Bartel said.
The display people stop and look at the longest is a collection of threshing stones, she said.
A threshing stones is a carved limestone rock with notches.
“It was dragged by a horse and the wheat was dragged out of the chaff,” Bartel said.
Early settlers had 200 threshing stones carved at a quarry in Florence. Threshing machines eventually replaced the stones.
An immigrant house on the eight-building campus is modeled after houses built by railroad companies. Descendants have put artifacts in the house.
“It was temporary until they got their own house and farm area developed,” Bartel said. “We have an area that is staged to be like it was back then, with the clothes hanging from the rafters.”
The museum’s Wheat Palace commemorates turkey red winter wheat that immigrants brought to the region. That variety of wheat was more suited to the area than the spring-planted wheat being grown here before, Bartel said.
Grasshoppers did heavy damage to spring wheat but were too small to cause damage to winter wheat.
Another building at the museum is a barn with two rooms where a family lived.
“Then we have the Friesen House, built in 1911,” she said. “It’s a Victorian farmhouse.”
Another house on display is the Kruse House, a two-bedroom house built with mud bricks between the walls for insulation.
“A Russian oven between the walls would keep the house toasty warm,” Bartel said.
The building that housed the first bank in Goessel now displays artifacts of different early businesses.
An old school and a 1906 prep school rented out to different groups round out the collection of museum buildings.
“Some people think the museum part is only the Immigrants House, but really the museum is a campus of buildings,” she said.
The museum store offers cookbooks, Mennonite history books, and Kansas tourism books. It can be visited without admission.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Life on the Plains
Hillsboro Museum features an adobe house, a pioneer school, a Queen Anne house, and a dutch windmill.
The Pioneer Adobe House, built in 1876 by the Peter Paul Loewen family, is the last surviving adobe house built in the area, museum coordinator Steve Fast said.
The museum’s Friesen Dutch Windmill is actually a recreation of the original, which was built in 1876.
“It fell apart and in 1994 Richard Wall, a Tabor professor, built an exact replica,” Fast said. “It grinds flour. They have actually made food items from the flour.”
Kreutziger School House is a one-room school built north of Hillsboro in 1880s.
“It was going to get flooded by Marion Reservoir so it was moved into town,” Fast said. “It operated until the 1960s. People don’t realize the country schools were the ones that educated the people who went to World War II.”
Schaeffler House, a Queen Anne-style home built in 1909, is away from the main museum complex.
“The Schaefflers were German immigrants who built a mercantile store and were quite popular,” Fast said. “It’s certainly much bigger than the average houses were back then.”
The house is beautiful and well-designed.
“I’ve had people go through the house and get ideas for what they wanted to do with their own houses,” Fast said. “I think what’s unique about that house is that they didn’t really change it. Their son, Robert, lived in the house, never married and never changed the house.”
Remaining family members donated it to Hillsboro Museum in the early 1980s.
The one thing people look at and wonder about is the museum’s collection of old farm equipment.
“We’ve forgotten how ingenious and creative people had to be when they didn’t have electric things,” Fast said. “They look at these old tools and wonder how those things operated. I think it shows you how people did work when they had to supply their own labor.”
A special exhibit, “Immigrant Trunk,” will feature 18 trunks used to pack possessions for the Mennonite trip to Kansas. The exhibit can be seen in the one-room school building beginning July 1.
Hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
The museum can be viewed at other times, by calling (620) 947-3775 for an appointment.
Marion Historical Museum, next to Central Park, is transforming itself into a research facility, digitizing old family and community records.
“We have handwritten documents of the early settlers,” museum director Peggy Blackmon said. “Then we’ve got several different prominent families.
“I have 10 books on the Hoch family, six different scrapbooks of Evelyn Ollenberger’s family. Different families have collected the history through the years, and it helps me go back and find the other people in the family. Those are very valuable volumes that will be digitized.”
The museum has records of the Harris and Holder families, freed slaves who made their home in Marion, where they were well accepted as part of the community.
“We’re getting a lot more people doing genealogical research,” she said.
Records include census lists from 1860 through 1900 and a land atlas, she said.
Two men are spending a lot of time researching early schools at the museum, Blackmon said.
What visitors exclaim about is the building itself.
“This is the original Baptist Tabernacle Church, built in 1887,” Blackmon said. “They also comment on the stained glass windows.”
The museum is arranged with different display cases highlighting individual segments of history.
These include a political case, an old settlers’ case, a military section, a parlor, and a schoolroom.
“A number of historic buildings that we have here are very interesting,” she said. “I would like to see someone make a map of the historic homes and buildings.”
While not a museum, Marion’s Historic Elgin Hotel offers a glimpse of fine living in 1886. In near-continuous operation since it was built, the hotel will schedule tours by request. More information is available at (620) 387-3200.
Railroads and luxury
The Harvey House Museum in Florence was the first hotel and restaurant operated by the Fred Harvey Co. Although other Harvey Houses operated along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad as restaurants, the Harvey House in Florence provided sleeping quarters for passengers.
Originally named the Clifton Hotel, it was located south of the railroad tracks.
Open by appointment, reservations for tours as well as group meals can be arranged by calling (620) 878-4296.