It is almost time to say happy birthday to the Newton County Historical Museum.
The museum, at 121 N. Washington St., officially opened to the public on Memorial Day 1958. Built in 1887 as a home for the elected Newton County sheriffs, with the jail on the backside, it served in that capacity until 1937 when the jail moved to the third story of the then-new courthouse (completed in 1936) in the center of the Neosho Square. Before then, 13 sheriffs and their families had lived in that home over the years, sharing it with the male prisoners who resided in the brick jail attached to the domicile, as well as with the female prisoners who were kept in the cells just down the hall from the family bedrooms upstairs.
Isn't it cool that this building with such an interesting story still exists today? Sorry, I digress.
After 1937, the former sheriffs home was converted into offices for the federal Social Security Office, with the actual jail portion at the back used for storage. In 1956, the Social Security Office moved and the sheriffs home was left vacant. Sadly, and very regrettably, the old brick jail was torn down at that time. If you look at the back wall of the museum, toward the top you can see where the peak of the jail building was.
The old sheriffs home itself was scheduled for the wrecking ball, but the public collectively said “hold on a minute.” Enough concerned citizens got behind the effort to save the old building that the Newton County Commission (then called the County Court), agreed not to tear it down. And they had a plan.
You see, the Newton County Historical Society had been formed a decade earlier, but had no home for its records and artifacts. It was the perfect fit. In 1958, the county commission signed an agreement with the historical society to convert the former sheriffs home into a museum, and it became so on Memorial Day of that year. The same agreement is in place all these years later. The county still owns the building. The historical society owns the contents and manages the museum.
Over the years, the site has expanded into a historical park (officially happening in 1990), with the addition of an original one-room schoolhouse and log cabin, and the same agreement applies. The county owns the buildings (even the ones that were moved there, because they are now permanent structures). The historical society owns the contents and manages the site, keeping it open to the public.
The Newton County Historical Park and Museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
In special recognition of the Newton County Museum's 56th birthday, on Friday the Pigeon Studio Art Club from Crowder College planted flowers in newly-donated flower boxes on the front porch of the museum. The metal flower boxes were made by a local businessman who wishes to remain anonymous. They are painted the same shade of dark green as the old flowerbox trash cans that used to be located in downtown Neosho (a couple of later versions still are). It was a very thoughtful donation. We appreciate both the flowerboxes and the flowers!
Meanwhile, happy 56th birthday to the Newton County Historical Museum!
Wes Franklin writes a weekly column for the Daily News.