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In the state of Iowa, you can find Wapello County. As per the last census, the population of this quaint county is around 35,000 people. The community takes pride in its history, and they feel that it is vital to preserve and showcase the history of their county in a particular manner so that the future generations can learn something from it. The goal was ambitious, and the result is the Wapello County Historical Museum. It is the premier historical museum in the county and a leader in preserving and interpreting the unique historical heritage of the county. It is the best place to learn Ottumwa Iowa History.
Learn at the Wapello County Historical Museum
Housed on the second floor of the Amtrak station on Main street, the museum proudly displays the life as it was in the Wapello County during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the role of the museum has changed drastically over the last 30 years. It opened its doors to the public in 1988, and the museum has undergone a few transformations. The central location of the museum has managed to propel it into a center of excellence. It is important to note that the museum has never deviated from the traditional role that it has performed over the years, namely collecting, curating, and sharing beautiful stories.
The identity of museums like the Wapello County Historical Museum has changed over the years, and it has now become a commonplace where different communities come together. It is one of those premier historical museums that has always catalyzed the rejuvenation of the community. The museum has undergone renovations very recently, keeping in mind whats augurs well for the museum so that it can have a very bright future.
The Exhibits at the Wapello County Historical Museum
When you wind your way through the various exhibits of the Wapello County Historical Museum, you will learn that a lot of stories have been passed on from one generation to another. This museum lets you feel what the settlers of this area have endured in the early part of the 1800s. They had a horrid time during the war, and this is an excellent opportunity to understand how both the local families and the economy were shaped during this era.
It is also neat to learn how the people of this community managed to turn the natural resource of the county into thriving farmlands. It is clear through both their John Deere exhibit and their antique farm implements in the basement. While you are there, do not miss the replica of the 1890n Coal Palace and the 1925 America LaFrance fire truck that was fully restored. (I’m a fire preservation geek after visiting the Vintage Fire Museum in Indiana earlier this year)
While under the new direction of Dr. Rick Woten, every item is going through the slow and painful procedure of cataloging. He is bringing it from a mid-century museum into a modern venue to tell the story of history in a more cohesive fashion. This is no small task with over 40,000 items housed in its collection. There is so much to see already that you could easily visit more than one time. The exhibits are thoughtfully laid out by theme in a slightly chronological fashion from pre-Columbian times on up with great “moment in time” vignettes.
The various exhibits of this beautiful museum have been aptly named; The John Deere Room, Ancient Past, Brick plants, and American Revolution Soldier and Railroad Clubhouse history. Stepping back even further into the past, you see a livery, a woodshop, and a Blacksmith shop. The tools of their trades are proudly displayed. It stuns me to think of everything they were able to create by hand, without computers or the laser technology we have today.
John Morrel played a considerable part in the town’s history and has a special section all of its own. Still one of the major employers in the area, it is fun to see their past. From models of their porky mascot “Mr. Ham” to the display of a beautiful colored calendar that was developed with the partnership with the folks at Walt Disney, it is easy to see how the company kept transitioning to make it still relevant today from its inception in 1827.
Outside the building is a full-sized engine: Locomotive 3001. A special track was designed to move it into place after it was donated, and it sits there to this day. It is truly a sight to see.
One of my Favorites
I quilt and enjoy seeing other works of art that were crafted by people of the past. I loved seeing the Red Cross Quilt, merely one of their over fifty in the collection. The names of all soldiers who perished in the war were carefully embroidered into this memento. It was designed for future generations to hopefully look back at and remember those who gave their all for us. Being a Desert Storm vet, I can respect that. Women had so little power at that time, not even able to vote yet, and yet? They preserved history in the best way they could.
Women’s Work is Never Done
If you want to see what women were up to besides quilting, you will love the display that describes how their days were long and hard. The washing, the canning, food preservation, helping out with the farmwork, and maintaining the community. All in addition to raising the kids? Hmm, it kind of sounds like my life today, LOL! At least we have a lot of technology behind us to make all of those tasks easier.
Shopping at the Wapello County Historical Museum
Are you one to look for a souvenir? There is a store inside the museum wherein one can get lovely souvenirs like Native American beaded necklaces, harmonica, novelty pencil sharpeners, and of course, M*A*S*H paraphernalia. The character Radar O’Reilly, as well as Colonel Sherma Potter, from the legendary hit series were said to hail from Ottumwa. I will tell you that your purchase always helps a non-profit, as well as making sure you sign the guest book. If they ever apply for a grant, having that collection of signatures makes a real difference helping to validate them.
Hours and Admission
The museum is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 12 noon to 4 pm. It remains closed on Sundays and Mondays. Admission is nominal, and you might run into a school field trip – I can’t imagine a better place to take students in the area to learn about their past.
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