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Museum complex keeps history alive in community

August 24, 2018

PIERCE — The changing landscape of Small Town, America, may be inevitable and unyielding, but the past is still tangible in some places.

Area historical societies, like the one located here, work to preserve and display a bygone era that shows a way of life very different from today.

Five buildings (and a caboose) make up the Pierce Historical Society Museum Complex at Gilman Park, located on the northeast corner of town.

One of those buildings, the original Pierce Train Depot, was moved from the center of town in 1968 and first opened as a museum in 1976.

The Frank Kratochvil Blacksmith Shop and the District 7 school house also were moved in, and a machine shed and a main building were built to round out the complex.

Susan Warneke, the treasurer of the Pierce Historical Society, said the main goal of her organization is “to promote the history of Pierce and keep it alive.”

In the main building, the focus is on Main Street, Pierce, Warneke said.

“We’ve got a bunch of stuff from the old doctor’s office, the (Pierce County) Leader printing press, the Pierce Telephone switchboard. We have an old soda fountain from Moore’s Pharmacy that was bought by Clarke Moore in 1936. He sold it to Greeley’s Pharmacy, then it went to Wee Town for a while, and then it came back here,” she said.

Anyone who has graduated from Pierce High School is part of the museum’s exhibits as well. All of the high school graduation photos, way back to the first graduate in 1892, are in the main building.

This exhibit seems to be the most popular with many visitors, as are the collection of old high school yearbooks.

“I like to look at old pictures, myself. We’ve got quite a few, and we’ve put a lot of them in books now. They’re donated family pictures, things that have gone on in the community in the past. We’ve also got some donated scrapbooks from people from years gone by,” Warneke said.

She said younger visitors seem to enjoy checking out the wooden caboose the most. The train car was purchased by the historical society in the 1980s from the Burlington Northern Railroad to have an authentic representation on site in front of the depot building.

The caboose doesn’t hold any exhibits, but it does have sleeper bunks, storage area and a tiny bathroom.

The depot, however, houses a little bit of everything. The main office in the building is full of equipment used in the day-to-day operations of the depot.

The staircase from the old Pierce County courthouse is inside the depot.

“Upstairs, we have a bedroom exhibit, wedding gowns from years and years ago and a kid’s room that’s being remodeled right now that we’re going to call Sophie’s Playroom.

“There’s a kitchen downstairs with some old equipment and a washing machine,” Warneke said.

Everything from clothing to artwork to old leather license plates, dolls and knickknacks are on display in the depot building.

The District 7 school house is a one-room building that is set up exactly as the small rural school likely was decades ago, with the original desks, school supplies and children’s books.

The machine shed holds threshing bee equipment that still runs. A fully assembled covered wagon, made in 1920, was donated by Hubert Riley and sits as the centerpiece in the building.

The Frank Kratochvil Blacksmith Shop, which ran from 1889 until 1921, is filled with tools of the trade, a giant bellows and the original chimney.

With an estimated 3,000-4,000 exhibits in the museum complex, Warneke said it would be impossible to describe everything of interest in one article.

“You’ve got to come out here to experience it and see everything. There’s really just so much to take in,” Warneke said.

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Want to see it for yourself?

The museum is open to visitors on Sundays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Admission is a freewill donation.

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