Washington County Museum

(Frank) And we’re back. While we were gone and while you were watching that story I read all three of those books. I’m a speed reader you know. (Deb) And they were good, weren’t they? (Frank) They were good. (Deb) See there’s your unsolicited testimony from Frank himself. (Frank) So, go get the books. (Deb) Good job. Get the books. Get the books. (Frank) So, museums and all that. We have a lot of ’em in Kansas you know. (Deb) And do not overlook your county museums and that’s one of the things were gonna talk about today because so many of the county museums have wonderful collections. And a lot of folks spend the winter months of course, doing genealogy and family history and other reading. Things you can do inside. And a lot of the county archives, Shawnee County actually has it’s own genealogical society, with a little reading room and museum. So, a lot of the county museums offer that as well. So, yea, it’s a great time to go. They’ve got gift shops. So, go in and support their gift shops because that helps keep the museums going. (Frank) You know, I just have to say here you know you’re getting older when stuff you grew up with… (Deb) Oh man. (Frank) …is in the museum. (Deb) You know the museum we’re going to talk about, Washington County, has this incredible camera exhibit. There are hundreds of cameras. And this collector gave, so, I’m going through this exhibit of collectible, antique cameras and I’m like, “I got that for Christmas one year.” (Frank) I had one of those. (Deb) It’s just like, I had one of those! Oh no, it’s like not just the things where the photographer put his head under the drape and was taking pictures. It’s no, you’ve got your Brownie camera that Mama had and then you’ve got the Polaroid Instamatic. (Frank) But you know the ones that had the little flash attachments and you tried to get the flash bulb in there and poof it goes. (Deb) Can you, Christmas, remember Christmas and everybody was doing that? And the flashbulbs were just everywhere and you’d have to run out and buy flash bulbs in the middle of Christmas because you, “Don’t open that yet, we’ve got to get the flash!” And so yea. (Frank) Yea. So, that’s why I say, stuff you grew up with is now in the museum. (Deb) If only we had not played with that stuff and torn it up, it might be worth something today. Let’s take a look at the Washington County Museum.
One rainy day on Highway 36, I detoured a little off the road to visit Washington. Luckily, the county museum on the downtown square was open and the lady at the desk offered to call John Barley to give me a tour. I hated to bother him, but I sure was glad he was the one who showed me through the buildings. He had been the president of the society for many years and built many of the exhibits himself. I was startled to realize the Washington County Museum wasn’t just the one building but several. Over the years, the Emmons schoolhouse was moved to the site. It was the first one-room school in the county. A jail and sheriff residence were added to the collection of buildings as well. It would take days to view every display. The collection of cameras is staggering, and a gold mine for the researcher. A room devoted to the Pony Express History contains memorabilia and a few artifacts from the era of the Hollenberg Station, including two tombstones, which were found on the Oregon Trail, a pick and gold pan that were used by miners in the California Gold Rush of 1849. A quilt, believed to have been made by Sophia Hollenberg, family Bibles, guns and a tin horn, believed to have been used by a Pony Express rider as he neared the station. It was all quite fascinating. As John showed me through the museum, his passion was plain. He had loved making this museum happen and telling his county’s story. It showed in the great care and attention to detail in every corner. The Otwell Broom Factory was my favorite. Originally in Strawberry Township, is recreated in the Annex. Most of the equipment and supplies in the display are from the original factory started by William E. Otwell in 1892. Mr. Otwell employed as many as five broom makers and had hundreds of customers in several states. He remained active in his business until his death in 1947 when his delivery truck was struck by a freight train at Hickman, Nebraska. The brooms and whiskbrooms were made of locally grown broomcorn, a member of the sorghum family. I had no idea. The humble broom has a remarkable story and this little factory exhibit tells it very well. I had to get back on the road, and so I said farewell to John Barley. I can’t wait to return.

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