Downing Depot Museum News

by Judy Sharp

Here is a good description of why our local history museums were created and why people put effort into keeping them going:

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” —Marcus Garvey

It was good to see some of our friends at Lancaster on Friday, February 14, Valentine’s Day. I sat with other local history-minded people at the 175th birthday celebration set up by the Hall Museum in the XLCR building of the Lancaster Christian Church. Sandra Redding invited the Downing Depot Museum to participate in the display.

In planning the Depot Museum’s display, I wanted some of our oldest documents to take, and so explored information that hadn’t yet been documented. We took three framed pictures— one of the OnaLee Spees home in 1897. It shows two teams and wagons in front of their fence. A second photo was of the Downing Public School students in the early 1900s. The third and largest was about the massive fire that burned down most of the City of Downing in 1906. Long ago, Inez Shaw did a lot of research for articles to match the pictures about this fire that started in one of the tobacco warehouses near the railroad tracks.

While looking for very old documents I ran across the 1907 City of Downing records. Not surprisingly, during the year after the fire, the council passed two fire-proof ordinances for new building construction. New sanitation rules for businesses were added for the benefit of the health of the city and, also, to prevent fires. City records showed a day’s labor worth $1.00 and the Marshall’s month wages for $12.50. He was also the tax collector for an extra $1.34.

We always have a lot of interest in the large 1940 plat map of Schuyler County. Related to that is the binder holding the 1981 NEMO Regional Planning Commission’s historic inventory of structures in Fabius Township, Schuyler County, that contained many photos of old buildings. It was interesting to see that most every structure qualified to become a state historic site, but none had been applied for. The 54 structures they described included every house, farm building, church, school, and bridge, no matter what condition it was in. In fact, many were abandoned and in very poor condition.

A binder of 1,021 death records in Schuyler County, from 1915 through 1960, listed details about the deceased person, their spouse, their parents, the cause of death, and where they were buried. One individual that caught my eye was an infant baby with the only information being that it was found dead in a ditch along the highway. RIP, little one.

Of all things, there were two versions of the 1850 Federal Census of Schuyler County. Not only were there two binders donated by two different people, but some of the names didn’t match or were missing from one or the other binder. Apparently, it’s good to check your sources, or use only an original, or you could help your local museum or genealogy group by volunteering to proof these kind of documents (check the data as compared to the original). You must know how hard it is to find errors on your own typing, and these documents are so detailed and long, it’s a challenge to be correct. Maybe technology will help us avoid typing these in the future.

Charles and Margaret Bruner had submitted a binder of interesting pictures of MFA from their many years of working there. We also had a 1887 Downing Creamery stock register that documents 35 people who purchased 115 shares of stock in the company, at $25 per share. On display were two Tatler yearbooks from Downing and two Lancasterian yearbooks from Lancaster, all from around 1920. Information about the Downing family was one of our binders. Another was a timeline, from the 1830s to present, about events and changes in Downing and the Depot Museum.

There was lots of reminiscing going on. Sandra Redding took notes on who had lived in the log cabin that is part of the Hall Museum. It came from the area near Glenwood. Of course, one story leads to a question—that leads to another story—then leads to a “who’s that?”—which leads to another story, and on.

Keep your June calendar open, as there will be additional events in early June to celebrate this 175th birthday of Schuyler County.

Also mark this date in your calendar: The first Sunday in June, the 7th, Downing Depot Museum will be having the annual Smorgasbord dinner beginning at 11:30 am. Museum board members will begin canvasing area individuals and businesses in late April through May for early donations. Gift donations go into the door prize drawing at the dinner, whereas monetary donations go specifically toward upkeep and improvements on the Museum itself.

Our next big project at the Downing Depot Museum is the taking down and rebuilding of the Veterans Room and its displays. More space is need for display and we’d like more people to have easy access to this room. Watch here for progress on this project.

For answers to your questions, to volunteer to work at the Museum, or to visit the Museum when it’s not open, just call Jerry & Margaret Scurlock at 660-379-2467, Carol & Don Scurlock at 641-929-3915, or Judy Sharp at 660-342-1454.

A display in a room

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Items from the Downing Depot Museum collection. A good time was had by all. It was a very successful event. Thanks Sandra, for the invitation and for sharing a bit of the donations with our Museum. We were happy to join in.

A group of people in a room

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A few visitors came early to browse the many documents and photos that both museums brought. Along about 1 pm there were over 20 people perusing the displays.

A hand holding a cup of coffee

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More pictures were retrieved from local homes and brought in to be scanned by Sandra’s daughter, Cindy, during the afternoon.