Wednesday, January 17, 2007 Iowa City Press-Citizen

Johnson County Historical Society
has broad vision on display

When the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau named the Johnson County Historical Society the 2006 Attraction of the Year, it was doing more than simply praising the society's expanded museum in the Iowa River Landing. Although the museum now has more space for display and storage than it ever did when housed in Coralville's 1876 schoolhouse, its broader community impact comes in how the historical society and museum staff have been working with other groups to offer a wide variety of opportunities for entertaining and educating local residents.

The benefits to the society are clear. The museum's attendance figures have skyrocketed because of the location, and as a result, more people have seen firsthand just how the society can help preserve their family's memory for future generations. The museum also provides a welcome service for those visitors to the other facilities located on the Iowa River Landing -- specifically to the convention goers at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center and to the visitors to the Antique Car Museum, which shares a building and staff with the museum. It's a win-win-win situation.

On top of all this, the relocation of the society's storage and offices has allowed Coralville's old one-room schoolhouse to become a devoted site for historical interpretation and exploration. The first floor already has been restored to resemble the school's early decades, and the upper floor is in the process of being restored to period right before the school closed. The society also facilities an award-winning program in which fifth-graders from throughout the Iowa City School District can get a taste of the one-room scholastic experience of their grandparents and great-great-grandparents. Plans are under way to offer more of such programs.

The schoolhouse joins the society's other devoted sites -- the Johnson County Poor Farm/Asylum and Plum Grove, the home of Iowa's first territorial governor, Robert Lucas -- to help interpret the past for area residents. The society seems to have developed a critical mass of local and regional interest.

In the next few years, the museum will relocate again to a larger facility still to be built. But Executive Director Margaret Wieting said she doesn't look at the current space as temporary in any way. Instead, with the new opportunities for display and convenience, she's enjoying introducing more and more people to a society that has been active in the area since 1967.

We're glad the society has seen recent increases in participation and awards, and we encourage community members and groups to check it out -- both as a series of attractions and for the vision clearly on display.