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By Linda Emley
I think by now everyone knows that I spend a lot of my time at the Ray County Museum. My job title is Museum Manager and I work for the Ray County Historical Society. Like all things in life, there is always a story behind the story and this one goes back to November, 1988.
The museum is managed by the Ray County Historical Society but the museum library is the home of the Ray County Genealogical Association.
In 1988, the following article was published in the Richmond News. “New Genealogy group meeting at Museum. Some 20 people interested in genealogy met at the Ray County Museum Thursday night, Nov. 10. It was agreed to form a group to meet monthly at the museum on the second Monday of each month. Each person told of his or her particular interest in family history and how they became interested in genealogy. It was agreed that beginning genealogy classes would be scheduled in the near future. An informal period followed the meeting and refreshments were served. Everyone in Ray County and the surrounding area is invited to attend the meetings, with the next meeting being at 7:30 pm on Dec. 12 at the Ray County Museum.”
I was one of those people who attended this meeting 25 years ago and I never in a million years dreamed that some day I would be the caretaker of this wonderful old museum.
On Dec. 12, an article in the newspaper told more about the new group. “The group was formally organized in December 1988, and affiliated with the Ray County Historical Society and Museum Inc., much the same as the friends of
the museum organization is.
“Anyone interested in genealogy is urged to join the group. Annual Dues are $7.50 for an individual or $10 for a family living in the same household. Charter members to date include: Garner Settle, Linda Weber, Richard Young, Harold, Kay and Belle Barchers, Curtis and Janice Proffitt, Paul and Carol Proffitt, Barbara Proffitt, Eugene and Alene Murphy, Pauline Brown, Nancy Donelson, Betty Hill Gundy, Morris and Fern Lillard, Bill and Dorthy Maffitt, Charles and Claudetta McCorkendale, all of Richmond; David Hatfield, Cowgill; Mary Hogan, Alfred and Sandy McKemy and Carrie Lee Young, Hardin; Phyllis Artman, Excelsior Springs; Glenn and Mary Audsley, Lexington.
“The speaker for the March 13 meeting will be Sony Wells, a Civil War researcher. He will be bringing copies of the Civil War Rosters of Confederate Soldiers at the 1885 Higginsville reunion, along with other documents.”
I was the Linda listed in this article right behind Garner Settle. I remember attending Sonny Well’s lecture at the Eagleton Center and having him look at my two Civil War tintypes. They were pictures of my grandmother’s uncles, Sam and Sol McCall. Sonny was able to identify their type of Civil War service by their uniforms. One was a Yankee and one was a Confederate so that was the first time that I understood the “brother against brother” thing in the Civil War. It was also the first time that I was introduced to the Higginsville Confederate Home. It would be many years later before I actually visited the Higginsville Home for the first time in 2011.
A genealogical workshop was held in February of 1989. I remember being there and was surprised when I found my picture in a scrapbook sitting at a table in the museum conference room. I’ve spent many hours in that conference room since I was elected to the Historical Society Board in January of 2011 and I hope to have many more years there.
In May of 1989, a charter members banquet was held at the Mushroom Patch and by this time there were 242 charter members of the Ray County Genealogical Association. I enrolled my sons, myself, my mother and my grandmother so that we would have four generations listed as charter members.
I spent many Sunday afternoons in the genealogy library during 1989. Most of those days, I would be the only one in the building besides Warren Hayes, who was the museum caretaker.
My life got busy with my boys and I missed a few years along the way, but I did spend a few more Sunday afternoons researching my family tree in the Genealogical Library while Roy Feldman was the caretaker.
One of my best memories with Roy was when some Emley cousins were visiting Richmond one Monday. The museum was closed, but Roy was kind enough to open up and give us a wonderful tour. That act of kindness was always remembered and I have opened up the museum on my day off for a guest because I want to pay it forward just like Roy did. Roy is now gone and the museum is not open on Sundays any more, but I will always treasure those quiet hours spent in this beautiful old place.
Like many others, my first memories of this building were from the 1960s when we came as a Sunday school class, a scout group or a 4-H club to sing for the residents who lived here. Some of us were scared to death of this place. It was so big and we didn’t know all the old people.
I’m sure some of you are thinking about how hot it would have been here on those summer afternoons, but that is one of the best things about this building. It is designed in a Y shape that keeps the air moving. It was comfortable here even in the days before air conditioning.
The museum was built in 1910. The contractor was a Richmond man named Woodson Alnutt. He began his building career in Excelsior Springs, where he assisted in building the Elms Hotel. He moved to Richmond around 1890 and worked on the Exchange Bank Building, the Newton Hughes home and the Christian Church. The building’s life as a private nursing home and Poor Farm ended in 1971 when Shirkey’s Rest Home opened.
The building is maintained by the Ray County Commissioners and the museum is maintained and run by the Ray County Historical Society.
This group was established in the 1950s and finally got a home in 1973 when the Poor Farm became the Ray County Museum. Gov. Kit Bond and several other Representatives helped celebrate the grand opening in 1976. When it first opened, there were four displays. Now there are artifacts from the early 1800s to the 1950s in 37 rooms on three different floors. This building contains approximately 14,400 square feet of space and has been spared major changes.
Some changes did occur on the interior when the original 54-room plan was altered to best suit its use as a museum. Today, the building also has central heating and air conditioning.
Ray County Museum was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979 under its original name, the Ray County Poor Farm.
The building is open year-round Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ray County Genealogical Society meets the second Saturday of each month at the museum.
Visiting our museum is like going to grandmother’s house. Every item here has a story and all we have to do is take time to visit.
Have a question about the museum’s collection of Ray County artifacts? You can contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her at the museum.