FUTURE, PRESENT and PAST FC Historical Museum is also a children’s museum

By Steve Quakenbush

At the Finney County Historical Museum, we host more than 11,000 children in a typical year, and that’s an important because young men and women represent the future and they need to know about the past.

Several of our exhibits, in fact, are designed specifically for children, and we also operate a year-round education program that helps them develop an understanding of what life was like for past generations.

Among exhibits specifically for children are Celebrate Kansas and our Windsor Hotel Dress Up Room.

Celebrate Kansas offers a chance to check out a box of Lego blocks and build one or more of the icons that represent our state, such as bumblebees, buffalo, sunflowers, box turtles, tiger salamanders, stalks of winter wheat or stately cottonwood trees. Some young builders also create other items or characters, and that’s fine with us because the main objective is to encourage creative learning.

Any item a child assembles is displayed for a period of time at our reception desk, with first name and age.

The Windsor exhibit represents a guest room of the historic 19th Century hotel that stands on Garden City’s Main Street, and we stock it with vintage-style coats, hats, vests, shirts, dresses and other garments that young people – or even adults – can try on and model. Once a few kids begin to don their old-time accoutrements, of course, the phones come out and lots of pictures are taken to preserve the memories.

While the Lego blocks and clothing are still put away as a COVID precaution at this time, we’re looking forward to making them available again once health guidelines allow. Both exhibits, of course, remain fully accessible.

1890 SCHOOL HOUSE

Meanwhile, if you’ve driven by the museum you’ve probably spotted some dramatic improvements under way just west of our main building. That’s the site of the Pleasant Valley One-Room School House, a traditional classroom building dating to 1890. Originally located south of Garden City, the structure was moved to Finnup Park many years ago.

When groups of school children tour the museum, one of the highlights is a visit to the wooden building, furnished with old-time desks, chalk boards, a cast-iron stove, pull-down maps, pictures of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, readers and encyclopedias, a hand-held school bell and even a wooden spanking paddle – common components of a 19th Century education.

Over the course of the summer, the school has been undergoing extensive exterior repairs, including replacement of deteriorated original siding and damaged trim on the main structure and outbuildings; re-roofing of the pony shed, where children would have kept horses they might have ridden to school; and even repairs to the replica outhouses nearby. The work is being done by Spanier Construction, which is donating much of the labor and materials, with the balance funded by a Finnup Foundation grant.

The work has also included repairing the sagging front porch, replacing the porch railing and front door, re-building and re-mounting the sign, re-glazing and re-screening the original windows, re-bracing the adjacent windmill tower and re-painting everything.

YEAR-ROUND EDUCATION PROGRAM

The experiences that children from Garden City and Holcomb public schools receive from visiting the site, along with many home-schooled boys and girls, are part of the year-round education program mentioned earlier.

That program is staffed primarily by Johnetta Hebrlee, the museum’s education coordinator, affectionately known to students all over Finney County as “Mrs. H.” An experienced teacher, she carries out approximately 90 in-house tours and on-site classroom visits every year.

Incidentally, those classroom visits don’t involve just lecture and narration. Johnetta maintains a traveling collection of artifacts that illustrate every-day life for past generations, and takes along tub after tub to share each time she visits a school. From those tubs she pulls everything from rotary-dial phones, hand-cranked egg beaters, film cameras, nut crackers, bottle openers, vacuum tube radios and stereopticons to phone books, coffee percolators, match books, printed maps, hour glasses, slide rules and ink wells.

The pandemic severely curtailed classroom visits, of course, requiring substitute means through Facebook, video presentations and Zoom, but with proper precautions we expect lots of educational experiences to return this year to the best learning medium available – real life. In fact, our education program not only brings children to the museum, it takes the museum to lots of children.

If you’re a parent or grandparent, and you haven’t brought the young people in your life to the Finney County Museum, we think it’s time you did. Exhibits are open 1 to 5 p.m. seven days weekly, and this isn’t just a place for adults. We’re also a children’s museum.

Steve Quakenbush is the executive director of the Finney County Historical Society. He can be contacted at HYPERLINK "mailto:squakenbush@finneycounty.org" or at squakenbush@finneycounty.org .

Quakenbush