History, culture between the cornstalks

Heritage Museums, HC Heritage Trust emphasize preserving, remembering history for Iowa Museum Week

GTNS photo by Grace King

Midwest Old Threshers Heritage Museums were open to the public for free for Iowa Museum Week on Saturday, June 15.
GTNS photo by Grace King Midwest Old Threshers Heritage Museums were open to the public for free for Iowa Museum Week on Saturday, June 15.

For anyone who thinks Iowa is boring, Iowa Museum Week may have opened their eyes to the rich history and culture contained between the cornfields.

Museums in Henry County joined the celebration of Iowa Museum Week with free admission at the Midwest Old Threshers Heritage Museums and a presentation at Henry County Heritage Trust in Mt. Pleasant.

Iowa Museum Week was June 10 to 16, in honor of the state’s educational and collecting institutions. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a formal proclamation leading up to Iowa Museum Week stating that Iowa’s museums play an important role in enhancing the quality of life throughout the state. She encouraged residents to celebrate Iowa Museum Week by visiting and supporting their local museums.

The Heritage Museums offered free admission on Saturday, June 15. Danielle Davidson, Midwest Old Threshers Sweet 16 coordinator, said history is very tangible at the Heritage Museums, from the tractors and steam engines to the exhibitions about how women lived in the 1800s, and at other museums around the county like the Lewelling-Quaker Museum in Salem, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

“We have to talk about that history and learn from it,” Danielle said. “Right now, the world is so ready to erase history, but it makes us who we are.”

Grant Davidson, public relations and marketing director for Midwest Old Threshers, said the Heritage Museums are important keepers of the past of Mt. Pleasant and keeping the history of farming alive in the modern world where so much has changed.

Grant said he hoped visitors to the Heritage Museum on Saturday were able to get a sample of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, and hopefully find time to attend the reunion in the fall.

“I love when people visit for the first time and see the steam engines, and begin to wrap their mind around how difficult they had it back then and how easy we have it now,” Grant said.

Later that day, Henry County Heritage Trust hosted “Weavers of Speech: History of Telephone Operators and the Telephone,” a presentation by Chris Ricciotti, a curator from Rockland, Mass. He found himself in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday after a resident contacted him requesting his presentation.

Ricciotti travels around the country teaching people about the history of the telephone. He worked as a telephone operator in the early 1980s, and is saddened when he hears younger generations shocked when they learn there was a time before cellphones.

“I witnessed this stuff being ripped out and if I had the chance to bring it back to life, I would do that,” Ricciotti said.

That’s what Ricciotti enjoys most about history — making it tangible to learners. He wants people to be able to touch, feel, see and hear what it was like to be a telephone operator. He wants them to step into history and be a part of it.

“We get so tied up with modern day society that we fail to see and learn from what has come before us,” Ricciotti said. “I watch a lot of museums with a lot of stuff behind glass. Interactive exhibits draw people into history so they can make it their own. I’m creating the world of what was.

“For some people, it brings back a lot of memories,” Ricciotti continued. “I want to hear their stories, and learn about what it took for people to get to where they are today.”

Whenever someone visits a museum, Ricciotti said he hopes they walk away with a better understanding of who those people were, the lives they lived, the work they did and why it was so important.

Pat White, with Henry County Heritage Trust, said Henry County Heritage Trust is the only place people can visit that contains the history of Henry County’s past. The center has a research library where residents and family members of former residents visit to learn more about their genealogy.

A few weeks ago, White said a man from Chicago visited to research his family, who lived in Henry County from 1850 to 1880. Census records, land records and more helped him piece together that time-period in his ancestors’ lives.

White said that can give someone a sense of where their family lived and what the town looked like when they lived here. In a sense, that’s why Henry County Heritage Trust was organized in the first place in 2007. Previously, there was no historical museum in Mt. Pleasant to collect historical artifacts or a countywide museum.

Before Henry County Heritage Trust existed, White said they had to turn down offers of donations because there wasn’t a location to store historical artifacts.

White said Henry County Heritage Trust doesn’t exist to take away from the Lewelling-Quaker Museum in Salem, the Dover Museum and Depot in New London, the Winfield Museum, Wayland Museum or the Swedish Heritage Museum in Swedesburg.

Henry County Heritage Trust is open every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. It is located at 203 North White Street in Mt. Pleasant.