Fremont County, Iowa

Fremont County Historical Society
"A Work in Progress"

by Evelyn Birkby

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
August 18, 2008

It is human nature to think something in the present has always been there. Most changes are gradual and unless we visit something only once in awhile we loose track of the constant changing. Such is the story of the Fremont County Historical Society.

The Historical Society received its incorporation papers from the State of Iowa on July 10, 1962 to “preserve the heritage of southwest Iowa and the stories of its people.” The work of the Society is supported by donations, membership fees, the sale of books and souvenirs, and the assistance of the County Board of Supervisors.

The first officers and forming members were all from area pioneer families: county engineer Ralph Greenwood, Sidney banker James Pullman, Jr., business woman Lela Parkison, third generation doctor Ralph Lovelady, county sheriff Al Christopher and his wife Nina, and business man James Moseley.

At first the society borrowed the empty Earl Wilson grocery store on the west side of the Sidney courthouse square where now the First Express Insurance office is located. People who had items they wished to donate brought them to the building for safe keeping until the new organization could obtain a permanent building.

Providentially, the Sidney Baptist Church decided to disband in 1966 and the members voted to give the church building to the Historical Society. This provided a place to move their growing collection. The building was preserved as much as possible in its original state until the recent renovation into a performing arts center known as The Gathering Place. For a time it was the only place the society had to keep its treasures.

In 1969 the county Farm Bureau Women purchased the Sunnyside one-room school house located west of Hamburg and moved it onto a lot donated by James Moseley north of the museum church.

In 1971 the society purchased Archie’s Ford Garage, on the east side of the Sidney square, from owner farmer/business man Verbal Schnepp and began developing it into the Main Museum. Farmers Gilbert Benson and Chester Ballinger razed an old house and used the materials to construct three cubicles in the garage-now-museum. Land owner Fanny Smith of Riverton willed household furnishings that were used to transform the space into period rooms. Volunteers built display cases with widows salvaged from the old Sidney school building when it was dismantled.

Gradually an Indian room, a pioneer room--which featured the stories of families who contributed $500.00 each for the development of the project--a library, genealogy and research department were completed. Prehistoric tusks, bones and fossils found near Thurman created a special exhibit. Owner Bill Penn donated parts of the old soda fountain and related items from his drugstore collection.

Gradually funeral equipment was added--the Shull Brothers horse-drawn hearse from Riverton, embalming materials from Campbell-Bickett in Farragut, and the player piano and piano rolls from the Johnson Mortuary in Hamburg. Historical medical artifacts from various doctors and dentists in the county continue to evolve into a remarkable collection.

The Ferrel House in Randolph was added to the society’s holdings when it was willed to them by school teacher Thelma Ferrel in 1995. Now, in this year of 2008, the Brownfield building and the Mullen’s house have been acquired and the plans are being developed for the updating, remodeling and climatizing of the Main Museum and the creation a Rodeo Museum.

Years ago, James Moseley had the dream that at least three-fourths of the block east of the courthouse would become a place for a museum complex. It is sad that he is not here to see his dream coming true.

Resource: “Thumbprint’s In Time, Fremont County Iowa” published in 1996.

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Page updated on June 20, 2017 by Karyn Techau