Thursday, November 10, 2011

Montgomery County History Center (1st)

The Montgomery County History Center is entered through a two-story atrium which doubles as display space and contains at the moment among other items, a fire truck.

This is the first of a couple of posts I’ve been intending to do about the Montgomery County History Center at Red Oak, which I believe is the newest --- certainly among the closest to being state-of-the-art --- local history museum in Iowa.

Three of us represented the Lucas County Historical Society were there during a late September meeting of the western Small Museums Group of the Iowa Museum Association. After that, I had company, which resulted in among other enjoyable things a trip back to Red Oak. Then this developed and that developed and I never got around to writing about the history center.

I’ve joked since that the History Center is just what God would have done if he had somewhere between $1 and $2 million lying around and wished to build a museum. God, however, being omniscient (museum planners aren’t), probably would have built it larger had funds been available.

Although much larger (at 14,000 square feet) than the original museum building next door, the staff discovered after construction was complete one of the major truths about local history museums --- if you build one, no matter how large, it will fill up, then it will overflow.

Spaces designed for other purposes in the new history center, which opened its doors during 2006, have been and continue to be redeveloped into display areas as the artifacts keep arriving.

The history center is located on a hilltop at 2700 North 4th Street, just north of U.S. 34, which skirts Red Oak’s northern edge. Also on the grounds are the old museum building, a smaller metal-walled structure next to the new building that is being redeveloped to house the museum’s schools collection; as well as a barn and other smaller vintage buildings. Much of the grounds is restored prairie, which makes an interesting setting.

The museum was built with a substantial gift, an effective fund-raising drive to match it, then another serendipitous gift. Even that was not quite enough to finish the building’s interior completely, however, so much volunteer work and ingenuity, has gone into developing those areas.

The most recent addition has been an enviable parking lot constructed in large part with an I-Jobs grant.

The entrance to the history center is through a dramatic two-story atrium, which doubles as display space. This view is toward the south and the main entrance (right), entrance to the library (center) and to the corridor that leads to the lecture room/Masonic lodge room.

The second-story walls of the atrium are covered with a mural tracing the development of Red Oak's town square through the years painted by James Hoskinson, a local artist, and unveiled during April of 2010.

The main gallery (more of that later) opens off the west side of the atrium and fills the history center's west wing. Entrance to the smaller military gallery (below) is to the north.

Although the military gallery is small, the display is dense and informative and professionally done due to the skills of center director David McFarland and his associates.

A gift shop oppens off the northwest corner of the atrium, a feature that wasn't even dreamed of when many of Iowa's local history museums were developed.

The history center's Bettie McKenzie Memorial Library (below) is one of the most pleasant spaces in the history center.

It contains a growing collection of reference material and documents related to Montgomery County history, general displays and a colorful collection of paintings featauring many of Red Oak's grand homes and other public buildings.

A small room off the south end of the library serves as the "Villisca Room," featuring displays related to Montgomery County's second city.

Included is this extraordinary model (below) of Villisca's town square as well as scaled reproductions of the city's Lincoln Elementary School and depot created by native daughter Sharon Moriarity Pendleton, an architectural designer who specializes in historic preservation projects, now retired and living in Kansas City. These were prepared for the Villisca Historical Society.

More of Villisca's history is displayed in this photo panel (below), also housed in the Villisca room. As is the case throughout the history center, the professional quality of the displays is notable.

I'll finish this visit up another time, but in the meantime --- if you're in the Red Oak vicinity, the history center is more than worth a visit. It is open noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $3 per adult and $2 per child, although Montgomery County Historical Society members always are admitted free.

No comments: