VIENNA — A class of Maries R-1 summer school students had the opportunity to have a hands-on glimpse of Maries County’s historic past recently with a brief tour of two of the buildings in …
VIENNA — A class of Maries R-1 summer school students had the opportunity to have a hands-on glimpse of Maries County’s historic past recently with a brief tour of two of the buildings in the museum complex of the Historical Society of Maries County (HSMC) in Vienna.
The class of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders made the short walk from the R-1 school campus to the museum with their teacher Mrs. Angie Combs last Tuesday afternoon. HSMC President Lisa Jones happily greeted the group of students. Two of the museums were open for them to tour. She told the students it has been awhile since there were visitors to the museum complex due to Covid-19 and the renovations made to the buildings. It has been a difficult time as the Old Jail Museum was robbed, with the thieves stealing guns and arrowheads, among other items in the historic building.
They building renovations began with the John Felker House. The old building has been repaired, cleaned and rearranged with pieces that portray how people lived inside their homes in the early days of Maries County. Jones told them the Felker House is her favorite building. The students were receptive to what Jones talked about, asking questions and some of them were able to answer questions she put to them.
The first question Jones was asked was why there are fake, plastic snakes in the rafter area of the dog trot, the covered by a roof open space between the buildings. Jones explained about the severe “bird problem” at the building. In the recent renovation, open spaces for the birds to get inside the Felker House were covered as much as possible to prevent the birds from getting into the building. The plastic snakes are part of the plan to keep the birds away. The students wanted to know if it worked and Jones said there is a lot less bird feces since the repairs and the snakes have been there.
She explained about the dog trot as a much used space between the two sections of the Felker House and asked the students why it was built in such a way. One young man knew it was because of the fire and heat in the kitchen being separated from the living room/bedroom side of the structure. The students were able to tour both the kitchen area which has a hearth and the living room area, both of which has a collection of antiques fitting a kitchen and living room. The students were curious about the friendship quilt, which is embroidered with the names of women who worked on it. The friendship quilt brought a group of women together and they brought their quilt blocks stitched with their names and together they quilted the blocks into friendship quilts.
Jones told the interesting story about John Felker, who was born in Germany in 1830 and came to the United States as a young man. One of the first things Felker did in America was he went to California for the gold rush. He didn’t get rich, but he figured out what was needed in California—cattle for food.
Felker came back to Vienna and partnered with other families and they had a cattle drive to California. Jones said they took 895 cattle using 95 houses and five families which piled wagons full of supplies. Each wagon was pulled by a team of 10 oxen. It took months to reach California and Felker’s wife, Amanda Anderson Felker, gave birth and lost a baby on the way. The story told about the Felker cattle drive is they sold the cattle and boarded a ship to bring them home. But, the ship wrecked and they were stranded on an island. Amanda’s father, Thomas Anderson, a wealthy Vienna man, arranged for them to come home and they arrived back in Maries County in 1856. Maries County was established as a county in 1855.
Jones said the Felker House was located where the public school is now and was later moved. The students asked about how it could be done and one young man knew they did it using logs that rolled. They also were curious about how the house was put on the new foundation. Jones said it was common for buildings to be moved a long time ago.
When asked about it, local artist and historian John Viessman said the Felker House was moved to its current site in 1959. He said it could have been moved in one piece, but likely was moved in two sections, which he called pens. The man who moved it charged $500 and it was done using a track system with cables pulled by a horse walking around in a circle. As the building was pulled forward on the tracks, the ones left vacant in the back were moved to the front and the process continued. Viessman said it was a lot easier to move buildings a long time ago because there was no plumbing, electricity, insurance or permits. They would move houses that people still lived in. He said there are people today who still move buildings.
Jones said John and Amanda Felker had two babies die and the tombstone on their daughter’s grave at the Vienna Public Cemetery is the oldest one in that burial ground. The Felker’s had five more children who lived to be adults.
When questioned, the students spoke about what they liked in the Felker House. They liked the vintage rocking chair, the friendship quilt, the apple press, old rusty bells, the chair on the wall (for storage) and the fake snakes to keep the birds away. One student asked about the new tin and 2 by 4’s on the Felker House. Jones told them about the repairs that were made, saying repairs were needed as the building is 170 years old. They also wondered why the porch of the Felker House is sloped and were told its because the building settled and the porch was built to follow the settle.
They also toured the Maries County Museum, which is home to the fixtures from the old Maries County Bank and the Vichy Post Office. There are all kinds of interesting items and exhibits in the building and the students liked the typewriters, Battle of Wilson’s Creek diorama, old school desks and much more. Some played cashier and customer at the bank exhibit, using play money with the photos of HSMC founders on it. They tried their hand at opening the mailboxes of the Vichy Post Office, with some success. Jones pointed out the type cabinet used for the Home Adviser newspaper. They also liked a performance outfit worn by singer/songwriter Leona Williams, a Vienna/Maries County native. One student knew Leona had been married to Merle Haggard.
When it was time to go, the students thanked Jones and they were off to write a story about their trip to the museum complex.
The HSMC has worked to promote student involvement in the historical society as they are the future members. The outreach is important but much of it was put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was good to have students in the buildings again.