Maxwell Museum is a treasure for sure
Most townspeople my age and older, and no, I won’t mention my age here but my graduating class picture IS hanging up on one of the museum hallways now, instead of at the high school—are very familiar with a couple of buildings on the Main Street, only open a few days out of the year. Behind those doors there are collections, displays, unique one-of-a-kind items, and most importantly, a long-standing labor of love that started fifty years ago by a few citizens who sought out to preserve history, not only for Maxwell, but for surrounding communities as well. And I would say they have done an excellent job after starting in the small front room that first year in 1964, which today expands to three buildings plus an implement shed. What am I talking about? Well if you haven’t ever taken a tour of The Community Historical Society, or Maxwell Museum (as most people know it), I highly suggest you take some time on a Sunday this summer to get to know the history of our town, and even surrounding towns. This is one little unknown fact they want people outside of Maxwell to know — the museum just doesn’t have items in it from Maxwell!
Our annual town celebration, held every August, is called the Old Settlers Picnic. In 1963, a few townspeople brought some items to share with others that weekend, to talk about, reminisce, etc. It was here that they decided a more formal place was needed to keep items that had historical significance to the town and surrounding communities. A committee was formed, bake sales and fundraisers arranged. And in 1964, an old implement store was purchased. At first a lot of items were just given to the historical society on loan, but the group started getting more displays and more donations, and in 1970 they had the chance to purchase the old theater building next door. The building needed some repairs, and the most interesting story I heard was about the main floor, which was the theater floor; like theater floors today, they sloped towards the stage. I was told that two members, Jesse Parr, and Harper White, went down into the basement and jacked up the floor slowly every couple of days until it was level. Looking at it today, you would never know it had ever sloped. Another building was purchased in 1990 on up the block, known as the old Cooper Building. And in 1993, they built a 36 x 70 shed to house machinery. Their largest piece is a threshing machine.
The museum is usually only open in the summer on Sunday afternoons, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but they are very accommodating to school groups. In fact, that was what member Arlene Witmer mentioned to me as we were walking through the north building. The main purpose of them maintaining all these items was to preserve and to be able to teach history to the students. There are so many things the students can see up close and personal. And since the museum is close by, she wishes more schools would remember they are there, and use them for a teaching resource.
I have been in the buildings many times over the years, but each time there is something new that I never noticed before. A few of my personal favorites are the covered wagon, school house, the kitchens they have set up with so much detail and the old jail cell. When discussing some of the major pieces the museum has acquired over the years, and how little space they do have, they would still like to add a player piano to their collection of pianos - currently the count is about nine pianos right now. I asked, “Where would you put it?” “Oh, we will find a space for it!”
They mentioned attendance has fallen over the years. At times, they did have about 1800 visitors a year! And the past few it has dropped to about 800. A lot of the drop is due to the fact that not as many school tours come though as did in the past. I am happy to promote here that they do now have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maxwell-Museum-Community-Historical-Society/799522616732733, and an email address: email@example.com.
Hopefully this will help them book a few more school tours throughout the year and get some other visitors in the doors that had never heard about the great museum Maxwell has. But as always, you can still pick up the phone and call Jerry White at 515-387-1127 to ask any questions or book an appointment.
What is so amazing about this group, besides the fact that they are still going strong after 50 years, is they operate on donations; for their collections as well as for the visitors that walk through their doors. Donations are all that they use to maintain and operate all the buildings throughout the year; no one on the committee receives a salary of any kind. All volunteers that can help out meet every Monday to clean the building and displays, which as you can imagine, with three buildings and that many items, takes a long time to go through everything. With continued support, I hope the historical society can still be around for another 50 years.