Grinnell Historical Museum Society acquires Uhlmann Furniture building for museum
An architectural drawing of the outside of the Grinnell Historical Museum at 703 First Ave. The society is preparing to kick off the public portion of “Campaign 703 – History beyond the Victorian house” very soon. The goal is to raise $1.5 million over a 3-year period for the museum project.
By J.O. Parker
Grinnell Historical Museum Society board members and volunteers have been working tirelessly since early January removing old carpet, ceiling tiles and removing walls to be ready for the renovation of the former Uhlmann Furniture Store for use as a museum.
Once completed, the 14,000 square-foot building at 703 First Ave. will feature 10,000 square-feet of exhibit and classroom space, 2000 square-feet of office and work space, and 2,000 square-feet of storage.
The focus of the museum will be on stories of agriculture, manufacturing, Grinnell businesses, education and Grinnell life. They hope to include Poweshiek County life and work as well.
“The history of Grinnell will be presented through new interactive galleries and educational opportunities,” noted information on the museum project. “Due to the limitations of the current (historical) home, there are a number of items that will be seen for the first time ever in the new space.”
In addition, space is being developed for concerts and speakers. The museum will also feature space for community events with a catering kitchen. And the museum will also be open to hosting traveling displays.
“We are hoping to do workshops and classes for the public,” said Ann Igoe, a member of the society board.
The society is preparing to kick off the public portion of “Campaign 703 – History beyond the Victorian house” very soon. The goal is to raise $1.5 million over a 3-year period for the museum project.
The furniture store was built in 1976 and closed on Dec. 31, 2021. The historical society closed on the building in November 2022. Plans are to fully open the museum to the public at the end of 2024.
The idea to purchase a larger building for use as a museum was launched following Ag Day in 2015. The society owns a rare, possibly the only one of its kind, Randolph Header, a wheeled, horse-driven harvester originally created and patented by Walter F. Randolph in 1874 with a patent renewal in 1880. The Grinnell company of Craver, Austin & Steele acquired the patent and manufactured 10,000 headers in Grinnell and shipped them world-wide.
There was so much interest in the machine that it inspired society members to look for a larger building for displaying the Randolph Header along with other Grinnell-manufactured items to be on display for the public to enjoy.
“When the furniture store became available, we jumped at it,” said Igoe.
Other items planned for the museum include Spaulding and Laros buggies and Grinnell Washing Machines. Igoe said the company manufactured water heaters and refrigerators, but was best known for producing washing machines.
The story of John Ahrens, who founded Miracle Recreation in Grinnell in 1927, will also be told at the museum. After seeing an exhibit for a “Perpetual Motion Machine,” Ahrens redesigned the merry-go-round and called it the “Miracle Whirl.” He was awarded a patent and created a company known as Ahrens Manufacturing Company.
“We are going to be looking for other Grinnell-based items that might be out there,” added Igoe.
The museum also owns Isabella Beaton’s concert piano, donated by her great niece. Beaton was a pianist from Grinnell who studied and composed in Europe in the late 1890s.
“That is another really nice big item we have,” Igoe said of the piano.
As for now, the society will keep the McMurray House at 1125 Broad St., the current historical museum, and continue to use it for historical purposes.
Current Grinnell Historical Society Board members are: Bruce Blankenfeld, Doug Cameron, Scott Gruhn, Mike Guenther, Allison Haack, Bill Hammen, Ann Igoe, Barb Lease, Felicity Meads, Rita Mertens, Cheryl Neubert, Debby Pohlson, Frank Shults, Jackie Stoakes and Sherry Wallace.
“When I was asked to join the Grinnell Historical Museum Board five plus years ago, the Board was already having conversation about the need to expand the museum space,” noted board member Scott Gruhn. “We have so many great artifacts in storage and tucked away that cannot be displayed. We knew that an expanded space needed to be wide-open and flexible. The board looked at several possible locations and drafted plans for a building. During this process the former furniture store building became available for sale. With the cost of new construction, it was a big cost savings to purchase this existing structure. The location of this space on the main corridor into the Grinnell community makes the museum highly visible, accessible and helps us promote and tell the story of our rich and interesting history.”
“The Grinnell Historical Museum looks forward to a larger space which will allow us to tell a more complete history of Grinnell,” said board member Debby Pohlson. “With this new space, we can free up rooms in the present Victorian Home which are being used as storage. Our new museum will be fully handicappedaccessible.”
If the public is interested in getting involved in the work of the Grinnell Historical Museum Society or would like to make a donation to the museum project, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the museum at 641-236-7827.
Grinnell Historical Museum Society board members use an array of tools to remove carpet from the former Uhluman Furniture Store during a Saturday work day in early March. Pictured are, Mike Guenther, Scott Gruhn and Bruce Blankenfeld.
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