Historical Society of Maries County opening Old Jail Museum, other buildings this Sunday

By Colin Willard, Advocate Staff Writer
Posted 6/5/24

VIENNA —History buffs will have a chance to step into the past this weekend when the Historical Society of Maries County (HSMC) opens its five-building museum on Sunday afternoon.

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Historical Society of Maries County opening Old Jail Museum, other buildings this Sunday


VIENNA —History buffs will have a chance to step into the past this weekend when the Historical Society of Maries County (HSMC) opens its five-building museum on Sunday afternoon.

From 1 to 4 p.m., visitors to the complex off Highway 42 in Vienna may see thousands of artifacts that help tell the local history of Maries County. The five buildings that make up the HSMC museum are the Old Jail, the Felker House, the Latham House, the Maries County Building and the Hollenbeck House. The contents of each building follow themes to give visitors a cohesive experience as they make their way through the complex.

“In the past, as they got a building, they just filled it with whatever they had,” HSMC President Lisa Jones said. “It was a little chaotic, but over the last five, maybe 10, years, we’ve worked hard to try to organize things.”

The Old Jail was the Maries County Jail before the construction of the courthouse and jail in the early 1940s. It features the cells and walls lined with graffiti written by prisoners of the county’s past. One of the cells includes a display commemorating one of HSMC’s founders Tom Coffey.

The Felker House features artifacts to make it look like a home from 1855. The experience of visiting the house is meant to emulate stepping into the past.

“The kids really enjoy that,” Jones said. “We have a really good story to tell them about life in the 1850s and a little bit later.”

The Latham House features a variety of antiques, including many of the organization’s artifacts from Belle. The collection largely comes from donations by the Bowles family. The items include furniture and a coat that has never been moved since its owner placed it on the back of a chair shortly before dying. The Felker House and the Latham House were two of the oldest in Vienna. HSMC member John Viessman was crucial in moving the Latham House where it resides now at the complex.

“I started trying to save the (Latham House) in 1969,” Viessman said. “Then we found out they were going to demolish it because they sold it for a new housing development. They gave us 10 days to move it and no money. I got some kids together, and a magic marker, and we marked the logs. The roof fell in and broke one guy’s finger, but we got all the logs down.”

The Maries County Building hosts displays about historical post offices and The Maries County Bank.

The Hollenbeck House features displays of the county’s military (dating back to World War I) and medical histories. The building is the only one at the complex that was donated to the organization. Along with the Old Jail and Maries County Building, it still stands where it was originally built.

A board of 11 officers oversees HSMC and its more than 300 members. Jones said that in recent years, the organization has designated certain individuals to become experts on each of the buildings at the complex. Those volunteers will be at the museum complex on Sunday to answer questions visitors may have about the artifacts.

HSMC started in the mid-1950s through the effort of the Baldwin, Coffey, Hollenbeck and Hutchison families. When preparing for Vienna’s centennial celebration, the group bought the Old Jail and Madolyn Baldwin prepared it to become a museum before the event.

“(Baldwin) worked really, really hard,” Jones said. “They all did to get it up and running for that.”

Following the celebration, the people who donated artifacts to the museum did not want them back. The museum became a staple in the county. Eventually, HSMC organized and bought the land and adjoining buildings to turn the one museum into a complex.

Over time, the organization has acquired thousands of artifacts almost entirely from donations. Most items are on display in the museums though some of the more valuable donations, such as antique money and silverware, are kept in a safety deposit box offsite. HSMC displays images of the items for people to view.

“Over the past seven years, we have started inventorying everything,” Jones said. “We had that jail break-in where they robbed and stole everything during COVID. We didn’t have a good way to identify what had been taken, so we all decided we were going to sit down and get things organized. We have a very detailed inventory almost completed for every building now.”

HSMC has acquired more items since the last open house event. New items the public will have a chance to see include a collection of friendship quilts dating as far back as the 1890s and additions to the mastodon display commemorating the fossils found near Vienna in the 1950s.

Although HSMC only opens the museum complex on occasion, the research room in the courthouse basement is open to the public weekly from 1 to 4 p.m. each Wednesday. The organization plans another open house in the fall featuring a guest speaker.

Anyone interested in learning more about HSMC can follow the Historical Society of Maries County Facebook page or email hsmc1855@gmail.com.