By Linda Emley
Every time I give a tour at the Ray County Museum, I start with a brief history of the building and how it became a museum. The building was built in 1910 and was the County Home until 1960. It was then leased as a private rest home until Shirkey’s opened in 1971.
Then I explain how it opened as a museum in 1973. I’ve been telling everyone that it has been a museum for 40 years, but I wasn’t really sure what month it started. I’m happy to say with only 20 days left in this year, I finally know when it all started. As usual, I found the rest of this story while I was looking for another story.
I was working on a story about the Richmond Police Department and wasn’t finding much so I decided to look in the 1973 Ray County History Book and see if I could find anything there. I turned to a page that had a picture of the museum. I’ve seen this page many times before, but never noticed the story about the “Museum Debut.”
It reads as follows, “The Ray County Museum will be located in the 2nd Floor of what was originally the County Home at the west end of Royle Street. This was made possible by the county court. In 1970, the court reactivated the Ray County Recreation Board and placed under its jurisdiction this building and its surrounding 15 acres to preserve the area for county use and prevent it being developed.
“The Recreation Board, with the concurance of the court, offered the 2nd floor to the Ray County Historical Society for the purpose of establishing the Ray County Museum. Other organizations throughout the county are selecting rooms in the lower floor and basement to renovate for their purpose.
“The building, although orginallly well-built, is now in need of repairs to preserve it. For instance, it will be necessary to tear out many walls for the rooms are quite small and unsuitable for effective museum displays. Fortunately, the floors run under these partitions and the rafters are strong enough to allow this.
“In the interest of preserving items given to the museum, special coverings must be made for the glass to diffuse the sunrays and special lighting installed.”
The next page gives more details. “The Ray County Museum opened officially at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, 1973. Two rooms on the 2nd floor of what was orginally the Ray County Home, built in 1909, contained displays from the Civil War period. In spite of inclement weather, 50 signed the register book for patrons that will be a permanent record of all who come to the museum.
“The museum will be a part of the entertainment being developed in the home and the surrounding grounds under the jurisdiction of the Ray County Recreation Board. Plans are being made to have a library in the museum and it is hoped to make this in future years one of the most complete of genealogical libraries in the state for residents of Ray County.
“At this time, because Ray County is the parent county for all of Northwest Missouri, the historical society averages better than two letters of inquiry from out-of-state residents seeking help along these lines.
“There will be featured displays at specified times along with permanent memorabilia of our county. Garner Settle, chairman of the museum committee, is making plans to have the museum open on a regular basis by the summer of 1974.Each of you who has taken part in this book has contributed mightly to making this dream of a Ray County Museum a reality.”
This article answered many questions I had about the museum, but it also raised some new questions. I want to know where the guest book is from Oct. 28, 1973. I would also like to know what rooms were modified because most of our current rooms are small and I always assumed they had not been altered.
There is a picture on this page of the history book that shows how the museum looked in 1973. There is also a picture of the men who were present for the ribbon cutting. They were Charlie Armour of the Recreation Board; Monroe Fields, presiding Judge of the Ray County Court; David Hatfield, president of the Historical Society; and Garner Settle, who was chairman of the museum committee. All four of these men are no longer with us, but their legacy lives on.
The Recreation Board is not associated with our musuem, but the other three organizations are still a part of the it. Allen Dale is the county commissioner who watches over the musem and David Blyth is our Historical Society president. I am left with the job started by Garner Settle. I will never be able to fill his shoes, but I try to love this place as much as he did.
After finding this story about the museum in 1973, I went back and read the “Poor Farm” story that I wrote in 2011. Here are some of the details from that story.
“Like many others, my first memories of the County Home were from the 1960s when we came as a scout group or a church group to sing to the residents that once lived here. And like many of them, I was scared to death of this place. It was so big and dark and I did not know all these old people.
“As an adult, I would love to go back in time and visit any of the first 61 years and talk to the folks. I am sure there were many stories to hear. As you know from a previous story about the James Boys, I have a fondness for Bud Jacobs. I found out that in his later days he lived at the poor farm and may have died here. I would have so many questions for him as we spent a summer afternoon just talking about the stories that he shared with my friend Milford. I am sure you are thinking, not a hot summer afternoon. That is one of the great things about this building. It is designed in a Y shape that keeps the air moving . It was cool here even in the days before air-conditioning.
“The first County Home was about five miles northeast of Richmond on Hwy F. It was active from the 1860s through 1910 .There is a Potter’s Field cemetery located at the orginal location. The general location is known, but there are no visual signs that anyone once lived here.
“The residents moved to Richmond May 20, 1910, nine months after construction began . 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 the Poor Farm ended in 1971 when Shirkey’s Rest Home opened.
“The Ray County Museum was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979 under its orginal name Ray County Poor Farm.
“The Ray County Missouri Genealogy Association has a wonderful library that is housed in the museum. Volunteers from this group staff the library and are ready to help you find what you are looking for. I spent many quiet Sunday afternoons here in the 1980s researching my family genealogy. There were some days that the caretaker, Roy Feldman, and I were the only ones on the place. Roy is now gone and the museum is not open on Sundays any more, but I will always remember those quiet hours spent in this beautiful old place
“The building is leased to the Ray County Historical Society and Museum, Inc. by the Ray County Court. This group was established in the 1950’s. Governor Kit Bond and several state representatives helped celebrated the grand opening in October 1976.
“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 fit its use as a museum.
“The Museum is open Wednesday thru Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come on out and sit on the front porch, you never know who might show up. This little quiet spot is one of Richmond’s best kept secrets. Visiting our museum is like going to grandmother’s house. Every item here has a story and all we have to do is take the time to visit.”