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Webster Co. Museum seeks new home at former McGregors

Stewart: Move can only happen with public support

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Phyllis Stewart, curator at the Webster County Museum, looks over a record played on-air among the artifacts kept under plastic sheets in the museum. A leaking roof prevented the museum from being open this past season and their search for a new location has led them to raise funds to bid on the McGregors Furniture building in downtown Fort Dodge to house and display the collection.

Webster County relics like Boy Scout uniforms, military caps and rotary dial telephones may one day be visible in a storefront along Central Avenue.

That’s because the Webster County Historical Museum Board has placed a bid on the former McGregors Furniture & Mattress building, 712 Central Ave., according to its president, Phyllis Stewart.

The museum is currently housed in the old Otho elementary school. It’s been there since 2001.

But leaking water from the roof has put a damper on things over the last several years, compromising the extensive collection of historic treasures.

Stewart, of Duncombe, said mold, mildew and water will destroy the displays if they aren’t saved soon.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The MGregors Furniture building, located at Central Avenue and Seventh Street, is being considered as a possible location for the Webster County Museum.

“We had a bad hail storm in April of 2009 and we started having problems on the west end,” Stewart said. “We had it fixed and then it seemed no matter what they did, it never got fixed right. And then a lot of city and county people thought we should be in Fort Dodge, so we waited for someone to help us find a building.”

That building appears to be McGregors, which closed in February of 2018.

But Stewart said in order for the museum to move there, it will need public support.

“The bid is subject to raising funds,” she said.

Naming rights are available for the entire museum or for specific wings.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen A manequin wearing an old Boy Scout uniform stands among the plastic covered displays and water stained carpeting at the Webster County Museum in Otho.

The 11,000-square-foot collection has items from these categories: transportation, minerals and mining, animal pharmaceuticals, medical displays, agriculture and agricultural suppliers and manufacturers, ethnicity, art, education, Boy Scouts, 4-H and military.

Former state senator and current Fort Dodge resident Daryl Beall isn’t ready to let go of Webster County’s rich history.

One particular item that is an eye-catcher for Beall is the Gowrie Star Theatre movie projector.

“I used to go to movies in Gowrie for 25 cents,” Beall recalled. “There’s a lot of stuff worth saving.”

Right now, most of the items are covered in plastic.

-Submitted photo
A leaky roof combined with the spring snow melt and rains left several areas of the Webster County Museum in Otho with standing water on the floor.

“If we don’t save and secure this, with time and water damage, we just aren’t going to have it,” Beall said. “It’s a marvelous collection. It can be exhibited in a more interactive way.”

Having the museum downtown would have its perks, according to Beall.

“Bringing it down on Central, there would be parking available,” he said. “There would be a lot of benefits I should think. We could do a lot of teasing and displays on the windows. We looked at a lot of different buildings and we found that was probably the most salvageable.”

The museum has had multiple locations over the years. It used to be on Central Avenue before it was moved to the school.

Stewart said the museum is an opportunity for people to experience history in person.

“It’s not like bringing it up on the internet,” Stewart said. “They can see the real thing. I had a little guy come in and we have a bucket of coal in a railroad display. He wanted to know if that was coal, and it was. I said, ‘Well pick up a piece.’ And this little guy held the coal in his two hands and he said, ‘Can you believe it? I am holding a piece of coal.'”

She said that’s just one example of the fascination children can find in the pieces on display.

Each of the cities in Webster County are represented by something in the museum.

“I think our young people can learn so much history,” she said. “If we don’t reach this goal of getting the money we need, we are going to have to disband and all this history will be gone.”

The museum has raised about $50,000 to date. Its goal is $500,000.

Financial contributions to the museum are tax-deductible for the museum’s 501(c)(3).

To pledge money, send your name, street address, city, state, zip code and phone number information to 515 School St. in Otho.

For more information, call Phyllis Stewart at 515-972-4804.