A new day for Marion County Museum

Peggy Blackman (left), director of the Marion County Museum in Marion, explains the history of the old-time dental equipment used years ago to visitor John Werner. Pam Varnishers, museum board president, shares her own enthusiasm for the treasurers within the building.The Marion County Museum, located in the old Baptist Church built in 1887, has a new curator.

Peggy Blackman started her role in June, filling a position vacated when former director Cynthia Blount died in Feb­­ru­ary.

“Cynthia kept excellent records of artifacts, and without that help I would be at a loss,” Blackman said.

Blackman also acknowledges Lorraine Hadsell and Phyllis Mel­ton for their work in leaving the museum with “a great foundation.”

Pam Varnishers, president of the museum board, said Blackman’s goals meshed with what the other board members want­ed, too.

Blackman said by writing grants to gain funding sources for the planning and implementation of digitization, cataloging and other projects could be accomplished.

“I can’t wait to digitize all the information we have,” she said. “It’s just a treasure trove.”

In the five months since she was hired, Black­man has been familiarizing herself with the history on hand.

“Handwritten notebooks with some of the most beautiful stories about the prominent families who settled here (are in the collection),” she said. “What I am trying to do is bring up all the wonderful stories found in our files.”

Indentured servants

In one of her searches, Blackman found a story about two families of freed slaves from the Civil War living in Marion.

“I found records of a 7-year-old indentured until he was 21 years of age,” she said.

The boy’s father wanted him to learn agriculture, she said, and even though the Civil War freed slaves, a different format—an apprenticeship—was formed.

“The parents gave their son to this family,” Blackman said. “The family who took the boy didn’t pay a thing except room and board.”

When the young boy turned 21, he was given a new set of clothes, $40 in cash, two horses and a wa­g­on, she said.

136 school districts

“A lot of people don’t know that every two or three miles we had a school district,” Blackman said. “It was because education was such an important factor for the early settlers to provide for their families.”

At that time, Mar­i­on County stretched all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

“It was the 23rd county established in the state,” she said. “The other 22 counties were on the eastern border and were established first.”

The elementary school, also known as the Hill Building, was actually a teacher’s institute where young people took classes and then were sent to one of the 136 districts to teach, Blackman said.

“I have a gentleman right now doing research on all the 136 school districts in Marion County,” she added. “He is doing a map depicting where every one of those districts were.”

Using public donations, Blackman and the board would like to establish small tombstones with the name of the school district, the district’s number, when it was established and when it ceased to be a school.

More school history

Blackman said many young students like coming to the museum to see pictures of their parents and grandparents in high school.

“We’ve been putting additional class pictures up from 1884 through 1984,” she said. “The 1894 picture is a group picture, but the rest are individual photos.”

Varnishers said her late husband, Dick, and his sister are both in the pictures. Blackman said her son and daughter are in the photos, too.

The first schoolteacher was Rebecca Schriever, one of the first five families arriving in a covered wagon.

“When the Bowne-Corby Elementary kindergarten through second grade was first built, the courthouse was on the second floor,” Blackman said.

The first building wasn’t built well, so it was torn down and a new Bown-Corby was put in its place. In 1906, the courthouse was built.

At different times in its history, the PTA and Butler Community College rallied in helping pass bond issues for the Hill Building.

“To this day, our Hill Building has been in continuous educational use west of the Mississippi and it continues to be used for classes,” Blackman said.

A lot of “firsts”

The museum has a lot of “firsts,” Blackman said.

“In our museum we have the first piano and first sewing machine in Marion County that were brought in during the late 1800s.”

The piano is a square piano that once was in the home of the Hannaford family, Blackman said.

“Actually, it’s the type of piano Bach and Beethoven composed their music on because of the rich tone it would give,” she said.

Alex Case was one of the earliest family settlers who moved here, and a lot of continued generations are still in the community.

“That’s what makes my job so interesting,” Blackman said. “I have had people from Tulsa, Okla., Dallas, Texas, Minnesota and Las Vegas, Nev., coming in to do research on their ancestors,” she said.

One woman was looking for information about where a World War I soldier was buried.

“She told me it was part of her genealogy and we were the only ones who had the book where he was wounded in World War I,” Blackman said. “Thank goodness we have these wonderful books.”

She said digitizing is so important because they can con­tinue to capture many of the fragile collections of books, journals and other historical documents.

Varenhorst said one of the big problems is the museum has no storage or anywhere to expand.

“Our basement is not useable,” she said. “It is a dirt floor, and it’s all flood mud.”

Tours, other programs

“We want to do tours and establish tours with other museums,” Blackman said. “We can bring a bus in from Wichita, Topeka or wherever and just have them visit all the Marion County museums.”

Another idea, Blackman said, would be a Marion County history day that would invite a particular grade to the museum and the park area.

“We have people around that still do spinning from older days, and the day could also include activities in the park,” she said.

Volunteers welcomed

Blackman said a program put out by the American Museum Association can enable the museum to categorize information and exhibits by name or item.

“It will link all that information to that particular object, name, event or whatever,” she said. “What our goal will be is to have a monitor set up so someone can type in the name, object or event and be able to see everything we have.”

It would take a lot of work, though, and museum officials are looking for volunteers.

Pat Smith, for example, has been coming most Thursday mornings to spend two to three hours going through catalogs of donated items, Blackman said.

“Smith is putting media, pic­ture, apparel or whatever it might be, whether in storage or display, and highlighting them so when we are ready to digitize, we can go through that stack of cards,” she said.

It will give the museum board some idea where to start, she added.

“Marion County is so rich in history,” Blackman said. “It’s a shame we don’t do more with it to promote it and save it.”

The current season closed Oct. 31, but Blackman will be open by appointment for anyone wanting to visit the museum at 623 E. Main St.

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