Guthrie County Historical Village is "Hidden Gem"
By Susan Thompson
The year 2018 will mark two 50th anniversaries in the Panora area. Not only will the Lake Panorama Association be celebrating 50 years, so will the Guthrie County Historical Village.
The Village core is located on a four-acre site on the southwest side of Panora. It got its start when the Panora Depot was abandoned by the Milwaukee Railroad and donated to the Panora Lions Club. Through a community effort, the depot was moved to its current location in 1968.
Kristine Jorgensen is the museum’s curator. She grew up in Panora, then attended Iowa State University and the University of Arizona before working in Seattle for several years. She took the job as curator when she returned to Iowa in 2002.
The complex includes 12 buildings filled with items of historical significance. Most were donated by people in Guthrie County and surrounding communities.
Jorgensen is always on the lookout for more. “Sometimes I get a call to come to a person’s house and look around for things we could use,” she says. “Other times people bring in items they think might be of interest.”
“A lot of people living in Guthrie County have never been here, or don’t know much about it. But we get lots of visitors from other Iowa counties, and across the country,” Jorgensen says. “Many of our out-of-state visitors come while they are staying at the Clover Ridge timeshares at Lake Panorama. We get some great reviews on our Facebook page from people who say they are blown away by what we have here.”
“I go to a lot of museums, and it’s easy to see why people like what we offer,” she adds. “It’s quiet, shady, no crowds and no lines. Visitors can take their time, and there is so much to see. People tell us the buildings and exhibits bring back a lot of fond memories.” The Village is owned by Guthrie County, and supported by an annual budget approved by the Guthrie County Board of Supervisors. That budget covers Jorgensen’s salary, utilities and basic maintenance.
Since county funds can’t be used for additional projects or renovations of existing buildings and exhibits, private fundraising is vital to the Village’s growth. The Guthrie County Historical Village Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that solicits donations to fund restoration projects at the Village.
Alex Krueger has served on the foundation board for about 25 years, and been president many of those years. “The Village is truly a hidden gem of Guthrie County,” he says. Other foundation board members are Steve Kroeger, Curtis Thornberry, Dale Grotjohn and Nancy Smith. Jorgensen says the foundation is always looking for donations of both cash and items of historical interest, and those who may be interested in planning a bequest through a will or trust. More volunteers also are needed.
Jorgensen writes grant applications for financial assistance, most of which require matching funds. “The generosity of our donors makes it possible for us to continue our preservation efforts, protect our collections and offer special programs,” she says. Recently, donated funds have made it possible to make headway on two large projects, but more is needed.
In 2012, the owners of a Pullman Café and Observation Car offered it to the Historical Village. It had been sitting along Highway 44 in Panora for several years. They were willing to donate the car to the Village, if the expense of moving it could be raised. Challenge accepted, and in 2013 the car was moved to railroad tracks on the east side of the depot. A 1956 Caboose, added to the Village in 1989, sits on the depot’s west side.
It took more than $30,000 to prepare the site, move the car, and put on a new roof. This September, another $8,000 was spent to have the exterior sandblasted, and rusted holes replaced with new welds. The exterior was painted a dark olive, known as Pullman Green since it was first developed in 1900 at the request of a Pullman Cars executive tired of the dark brown used previously.
Attention now will turn to the interior, which is estimated to cost $50,000 for a full restoration. These cars included an outside deck on one end, near an indoor observation room with casual seating. Further back were dining tables and chairs, and a kitchenette.
The other current project is restoration of the Marchant House. The house was last owned by Mildred Marchant, and purchased by the Foundation in 2014 for $25,000. It sits on land just west of the Village complex.
This past summer, fundraising and a grant from the Guthrie County Community Foundation made it possible to get a new roof and porch on the house. Additional exterior work is needed, plus all of the interior. Jorgensen said the plan is to restore and furnish the home to show what life was like in Panora in 1900. It’s estimated another $75,000 is needed to complete this project.
What’s ahead for the second 50 years of the Guthrie County Historical Village? In 2015, the Foundation purchased the hayfield just each of the Village complex for $30,000. In the next 10 years, the board would like to develop that area. Plans being discussed are a welcome center that would include a library, office and meeting room; a 1900 farmstead complete with farmhouse, barn, outbuildings and gardens; and a place where Civil War reenactments could be held.
Those interested in making or discussing a donation can contact Jorgensen at email@example.com or 641-755-2989. More information is available online at www.Facebook.com/TheGCHV or www.panora.org/museum.
The facility closed for the 2017 season following the October 15 Haunted Village, sponsored annually by the Panora Chamber and the Village. The event gives children the chance to dress in Halloween costumes and includes games, face tattoos, treats, storytelling, a hay ride and more. While no admission was charged, freewill donations will be used to help restore the Pullman Car.
The Village is open seasonally May 1 through October 15. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, with Saturdays and holidays 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is closed Sundays and Mondays. Admission for touring the Village is $2 for adults, $1 for children ages 6-17, and children 5 and under free. A season pass is $10.