Barnes County Museum: Gifting Yesterday

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Chelsey Olauson
A fundraiser was held for the Barnes County Historical Museum (BCHM) on Monday, October 8th and it made we wonder.... are museums still relevant? Why are history and museums still important?
I posed this question to Wes Anderson, because although knowing history is important, I couldn’t put it into words. I hoped that he had some answers.
Our museum, he says, is pretty singular. It was established 90 years ago in an effort by early citizens who determined it to be important for our community.
Everywhere has a history. The Barnes County museum “tells the story of us,” the pioneers who came before us, and “what it means to be a part of Barnes County.” Wes is referring to the fact in psychology that belonging is part of a human’s basic need structure. Maslow’s pyramid of needs starts with air, food, water, and rest. The next level is safety, security, and stability. Directly after that is the need for belonging. It is midway on Maslow’s pyramid, and is recognized as an important part of a human being’s psychological needs.
Biologically speaking, realizing and fulfilling these allows for creativity and development, both of which pave the future.
The museum has had a few different homes: at first the spirits of the pioneers were realized in small gatherings, which grew (one meeting had 500 individuals, and there was dancing until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning!), and in October 1929, the Daughters of the American Revolution set up an ephemeral display in the Masonic Hall. A room in the courthouse was then opened, where the D.A.R received “thousands of visitors” for the next 60 years.
The next home for the museum was on West Main Street, and finally, when Orville and Eva Barber donated the Fair Store in 1997, the museum’s current home was found. “Nearly half a million visitors” have been to the museum, says Wes, since 1997.
Having a place where visitors can realize their sense of belonging and learn the history of their workplace or living place takes funding to keep the lights on, staff to tend the exhibits, and maintaining the building where the collection is housed. A small child, at the end of a tour, asked “How much is this all worth?” Museum staff responded by telling the child that what makes the collection in the museum valuable is “the stories that come with the items,” as most had been donated by past Barnes County citizens. “It is the stories … that are invaluable and make them truly replaceable.”
Past curators of the collection began with Mrs. Winifred Benson, Miss Helen Stowell, Miss Helen Movius, Tom Elliot, and currently, Wes Anderson.
Native American artifacts, organs, an eagle with a six-foot wingspan, Civil War clothes and articles, a drum that beat in the Revolutionary War, Chris Paetow’s shoes, braille magazines, relics from India including a white snow leopard skin, dolls depicting nationalities that settled in the area, and a vast number of more items all have a unique story attached to them, which Museum staff know and are happy to tell visitors. During the past 80 years, the museum collection has grown and the staff who know these stories are a veritable fount of knowledge. Realizing the past is important in creating the future, and the Museum is happy to be here for Barnes County. Wes Anderson, current museum curator, says at the museum: “We give the gift of yesterday’s memories to present and future generations.”