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‘Farm to town, life retold’

Heartland Museum holds treasures of the past

-Messenger photos by Kriss Nelson
Melody Lager, president of the board of directors sits at one of her favorite spots: the old fashioned soda fountain on 1950’s street inside the Heartland Museum.

CLARION –Where can you find an original soda fountain, a replica of a 1950s kitchen, a small town garage, teddy bears, a hat collection and tractors all under one roof?

The answer is the Heartland Museum in Clarion. Those displays and several more have been a part of the museum since it opened nearly 20 years ago.

Melody Lager, president of the board of directors for the Heartland Museum, said its inception was a collaboration of local organizations and citizens working together to replace the Clarion Museum that was housed in a smaller, older building downtown.

Lager said in the late 1990s the Wright County Historical Society; Clarion Arts Council; Steve Schutt, teddy bear artist; Larry Maasdam, tractor collector; and Alvina Sellers, the Iowa Hat Lady, began discussing their ideas on how their collections could all be displayed.

“It just worked out very well for them to come together and create something larger that would draw more people. From my understanding, Steve drew out what they were going to build,” she said. “Then Maurice Riley, George Boyington and Terry Evens all spent a lot of time out here building. They did a lot of work.”

One of the more unique tractors in Ag Hall at the Heartland Museum is this 1962 Porsche Diesel from Germany. The tractor is owned by Larry Maasdam of Clarion.

Lager said the Heartland Museum could be considered Clarion’s hidden gem.

For a majority of the museum’s life, Big Bud, the world’s largest tractor, has called it home. Big Bud is expected to leave on Monday.

“Big Bud has drawn outsiders here,” said Lager. “They will research Big Bud and when they find out he is here they will come here to see him and find out there is so much here. Having him here has worked out really, really well.”

Coming soon to the Heartland Museum will be an outdoor education center. Lager said she anticipates being able to hold a variety of programs outdoors in the near future. The center was made possible with the awarding of two grants: one from the Wright County Charitable Foundation and one from Bayer.

Once people find out the Heartland Museum exists and they visit, Lager said they are usually impressed and leave positive reviews.

A walk back through time would not be complete without a phone booth. Visitors are welcome to sit inside and experience the ways of communication with a rotary dial phone.

Lager said the most commonly heard comment is, “Wow we didn’t know there was this much to see.”

Lager said to plan on at least two hours to visit the museum. It is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, Monday-Saturday. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturdays in September. It is also open by appointment.

“People can call us anytime and if they would like to come visit, we will get somebody here,” she said.

Admission is $12 for adults; $6 for children. That admission fee, Lager said, is largely what they depend on to keep their doors open.

Touring the museum

The 1950s kitchen allows for visitors to step back in time reminding them of the ways they, their parents or grandparents often dined.

Your tour begins with the community room.

This space, Lager said, is available to rent for meetings, receptions, celebrations and more. The room is also full of memorabilia from Clarion, unique agricultural paintings and two ships that were completely handmade by Dale Feller, of Belmond.

Starting a walk down 1950s street you will see a soda fountain.

The soda fountain is believed to be from the Fort Dodge area. This is a spot where visitors love to take a seat and have their picture taken. Another popular photo opportunity is getting inside the old phone booth from Webster City.

As you continue on through the 1950s street, there are several displays of old toys, collectables and a large variety of items from Clarion businesses over the years.

At the end of 1950s street is an old garage. In addition the older bikes and the classic Ford Victoria, the garage is full of other memorabilia used by mechanics during that era.

Next is the 1950s kitchen.

“This is one of my favorite rooms, simply because it reminds me of my grandparents,” said Lager. “My grandpa would be sitting in a chair similar to this one smoking his pipe.”

The 1950s kitchen also features a sewing machine, a radio, China hutch, toddler bed and, of course, a refrigerator and one of the first electric stoves.

Visitors often reminisce over the table settings – as they recall using pieces just like them.

Back on 1950s street is an x-ray machine – and not one used for medical purposes.

A replica of the Clarion Volunteer Fire Department is full of old fire helmets, photos and a horse drawn hose reel. Visitors can ring the old fire department’s bell or turn the fire crank alarm.

“You would put your feet in there and it would x-ray your feet to see what size of shoe you wear,” Lager said. “It was very popular during the war era and it kept on until it was discovered it wasn’t a good idea to be x-rayed that often.”

The camera shop has a variety of older cameras.

“We have everything from folding cameras up to Polaroid time. Some of the items, such as the slide projector, still actually work,” said Lager.

A Clarion theater sign shines bright over the 1950s street and sits above the original window from the Clarion Theatre. Lager said the sign was made by the same gentleman that helped build the original Clarion Theater sign.

The fire station is full of equipment including old fire helmets, a hose reel, fire trucks and photos. Visitors can ring the old fire bell from the Clarion Fire Department as well as take a turn at sounding the siren with the hand-crank fire alarm.

Nearby is a model working farm, a shoe cobbler shop, a blacksmith shop and a printing press.

The garage at the end of 1950’s street features just about everything a garage from that era would need from a volt meter, to old Chevrolet jackets, tools, a refrigerator with a top cooling unit and a classic Ford Victoria car.

Are teddy bears near and dear to your heart?

The Heartland Museum is also home to an International Teddy Bear Museum. Steve Schutt from Clarion, Lager said, was very instrumental in getting it designed and established.

Schutt was a teddy bear artist. Several of the bears are his that are on display, as well as others from world renown artists.

Throughout the museum music plays from a late 1800s Symphonium Chime.

As a tribute to those that have fought for us, the Duty and Honor room at the museum honors veterans and those that serve in our military. This display features several military uniforms including a World War I uniform of a cavalry trooper. There is even a box full of old recipes from a military kitchen.

On the wall is a mural of the Old Guard Horses.

“It is so beautiful and so soothing,” said Lager. “When I saw that, I said we are putting that up in the military room. I contacted the Old Guard and asked them for a horse shoe. They sent me four. Those four horseshoes were actually worn by horses that pulled caskets.”

Alvina Sellers, Iowa’s Hat Lady, is remembered in the hat museum and millinery.

“The hat museum of Alvina’s Hat Parlor and Millinery shop showcase her life and some of the pieces of her 6,000 hat collection,” said Lager. “This is a favorite place for the women. We tell them to try on a hat and have your picture taken.”

There is also a spot to take a seat and enjoy watching Sellers on the David Letterman show.

Victorian Street features several collections from that time period of the late 1800s.

There is a music store, barber shop, hotel lobby and hotel room and a men’s clothing store.

“That shows what the well-dressed man of the late 1800s would have worn including the shoes with the spats,” said Lager.

There is also a bank and a jail. Lager said they encourage visitors to throw themselves behind bars for a fun photo opportunity.

A general store full of goods for people during that era ends the Victorian Street display.

A Depression-era kitchen on 1930s street features what Lager calls an “iceless ice box”, among other kitchen items from the 1930s.

“You turn the handle and it sent the food down to the basement and your food stayed cool,” she said.

In the library at Heartland Museum, Lager said people are welcome to come and research on Clarion and Wright County with the large collection of county books, city directories and photos.

Tractors and buggies

Towards the back of Heartland Museum, just off Victorian Street, is Ag Hall.

“This is a man’s paradise back here,” Lager said.

Lager said while visiting Ag Hall, be sure to look up and down the walls as you walk through the 90 tractors and approximately 40 horse-drawn buggies.

Some of the tractors are unique, including a 1962 Porsche Diesel tractor from Germany, whereas some tractors, like a John Deere B aren’t so rare, but were a large part of many farms when they switched over from horses to horsepower.

Many of the tractors are owned by Larry Maasdam. His wife, Melanie Maasdam, owns the buggies and horse items.

“He likes to say he likes horsepower and she likes horses,” said Lager.

One of the more special items in Ag Hall, Lager said, is a Garland Cutter, a rare, open horse-drawn sleigh.

Lager said it is from the Garland Buggy Company. The company was only in existence for three years and the owner has never found another Garland Cutter.

“We are quite excited to have it,” she said. “We have tried to search for information about it and just can’t find anything.”

In fact, according to information provided by the Heartland Museum, the previous owner is offering rewards if you can locate any other Garland buggies or bikes.

Outside of the main building of the Heartland Museum is the Red Shed.

The Red Shed had been home for Big Bud for eight years. Lager said don’t let the fact Big Bud is gone keep you away from visiting the shed – as there are currently 40 other tractors in there, and they are working on filling Big Bud’s spot with more unique, award winning antique farm equipment – potentially even an old cotton picker.

Next door is the 4-H school house.

This is the birthplace of the 4-H emblem. The schoolhouse, which had been sitting in Clarion’s city park, made the move the Heartland Museum a few years ago.

The school house showcases the beginning of 4-H and is dedicated to O.H. Benson, the originator of the 4-H emblem.

It is also a place to look at how rural education started in a one-room schoolhouse. Visitors can sit at a desk and look at other items related to those early days.

This is one of the several displays in the International Teddy Bear Museum.

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