Museum 75th Anniversary

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wayne County Historical Society 
75th Anniversary

1890 Wayne County Courthouse

Establishment of Wayne County Historical Society

The Wayne County Historical Society had its origin 75 years ago on August 7, 1942 at a meeting of 15 persons in Corydon called by W. H. Burton and Roy Grimes. Both men were working in the Wayne  County Engineer’s office at that time.   They had observed that the people who had experienced the early pioneer days of Wayne County were dwindling and soon this source of knowledge would be gone.  They both felt the necessity to establish an historical society to preserve written and published materials and artifacts of those early years in Wayne County.

      The Articles of Incorporation were signed by: Roy Grimes, Gene Poston, Harry Hibbs, A.T. Dotts, Grant Kelley, N.C. Rew, Rosa Lee Snyder, Calvin Lammers, Charles Elmore and Lola Cherry.  The following day, Corydon’s Old Settlers Celebration, the organization had its first display and signed up 74 charter members.

Warren Burton at his desk
in County Engineers Office 

 Warren Burton wrote about that first historical society meeting, “ I don’t remember how many there were who attended, but with those present an organization was formed with laws and bylaws, and with an official board to be composed of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, curator and five directors.  Dues were set at 50¢ for an annual membership and $5 for life membership.” 

During the early years the organization collected and stored in their homes an enormous amount of written and published documents and artifacts, hoping for the day they could have a place to display the growing collection. 

Wayne County Artifacts on Display In Courthouse

In 1944 a large showcase was donated to the organization and placed in the Courthouse basement to display the small but growing collection of artifacts. Finally, in 1955, Wayne County Board of Supervisors granted the Historical Society approximately 50 feet of wall space in the County clerk’s office in the courthouse for display cabinets.  That space was quickly filled and then some. While the old courthouse building on the square housed the first historical society display cases the goal was to have a separate building to preserve and display the history of Wayne County.

In 1948 the society published the first of four booklets of Wayne County history, “Bits of Wayne County History” with 25 short articles written by various early county historians.  Three more county history booklets followed, in 1955, 1957, and 1962 written by Warren Burton. Copies of these booklets can be seen in the museum library.

In 1955 work was began in all the communities of Wayne County to collect histories of their towns and churches.    Today the museum genealogical library has an extensive collection of county, town and family history that continues to grow thanks to those thoughtful early members of the Wayne County Historical Society.
May (Miller) & George King

    The first sizable contribution toward this project was $1,000 given by Miss Jessie Hinkle in 1946.  In 1958 a $26,000 bequest from May Miller King (pictured at left) made possible the fulfillment of a dream.  

Amy Robertson

Wayne County Historical Museum Opens

Under the leadership of Amy Robertson the Historical Society purchased a lot on the east edge of Corydon and in 1964 work began to erect the first three rooms of the present museum. Many people from the community made donations to support the completion of the project.  

The Wayne County Historical Museum opened its door to visitors on July 8, 1966.  The first guest to sign the registration book was Clarence Neely, local businessman and community leader.

  In December 1966 the museum reported 3,661 guests had registered since opening day from 35 states and Washington, DC.

 Since that day in 1966 guests have registered from all 50 states and more than 35 countries.  Two large maps displayed prominently in the lobby have pins placed by museum visitors marking locations around the globe.

Opening Day July 8, 1966

1853 Miles Log Cabin 

Heritage Barn & Machine Shed

GAR window from Lineville Methodist Church
   Museum Expands

 The original three room building has now become a complex covering over 38,000 sq. ft. in three buildings full of displays telling the story of Wayne County and southern Iowa history.  In 1970, an addition was built on the east side, now called the Prairie Trails room that holds a number of family cases and Mormon Trail exhibit.  Then, in 1975-76, a second addition, on the west side, was constructed to display the farm machinery collection.  In 2001 the impressive Heritage Barn was built east of the brick building and all farm equipment was moved there in 2002.  The west wing was transformed to a 20th Century Gallery featuring more recent (at least for some of us) history.

     Once again the board recognized the need for expansion, and the Machine Shed was built in 2014.  In an amazing operation the 1853 Miles log cabin was moved into position and the machine shed built around it; thus insuring the long term preservation of the hand-hewn log structure. 

    Most of the exhibits in the museum have been constructed by board members and volunteers since the beginning of the museum.  The photo at right shows the Main Street Gallery structures under construction before 1966 by unidentified volunteers.

Museum Changes Name 

      In 1996 the name of the museum was changed to Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County to better reflect our prairie surroundings and location along important early trails.  The Prairie Heritage of Wayne County exhibit installed in the museum entrance gallery was awarded a Loren Horton Community History Award in 1998.

    Around the time of the museum was opened, the Wayne County Historical Society boasted the largest historical society membership in the state at over 1,000 individual members.   Membership remains strong today with well over 600 members and the quarterly newsletter is received in almost 400 households.

Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County

I think the group that founded Wayne County Historical Society 75 years ago would be very proud of Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County and the outstanding museum we have today.  They would also be amazed at the continuing generosity of the people of Wayne County and beyond that have donated to keep the organization and museum growing. 

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