In spite of the near blizzard conditions that blew into the area last Saturday, the determined members of the Farmington History Museum successfully held the grand opening of its temporary location at the public library from 1 to 4 p.m.
An exhibit revolving around the Farmington History Mural permanently on display at the library, was showcased for the opening. Numerous artifacts, pictures and other items were gathered for the event that are either permanent pieces of the museum or had been loaned by generous donors. The exhibit is housed in the north end of the library in an allotted space in the genealogy wing.
“While we were concerned that the severe weather conditions would keep people from attending, we were hugely gratified by the turnout,” said Jessie Williams, museum director. “Thanks to the staunch leadership of Chamber of Commerce Co-Director Laura Raymer, the intrepid chamber ambassadors showed up en masse for the ribbon cutting and to tour the displays. Throughout the afternoon they were also joined by a good number of other well-bundled-up visitors. Overall, the response to the exhibit was very positive.
“We are also extremely indebted to Travis Trokey, director of the library and his staff for all of their assistance, encouragement and patience in working with us to provide a physical home for the museum. Also our sincere thanks to the many people who have loaned items for this exhibit. Without their many contributions the exhibit would not have been possible.”
The ribbon cutting was held in the Sarah Barton Murphy room with Mayor Larry Forsythe doing the honors. Also representing the city were council members Wayne Linnenbringer and Adam Parks. Williams opened the program with a welcome and introduced the board members and then special guest, Anne Ledbetter.
Ledbetter gave the backstory on the Farmington History Mural and how it came to be presented to the Farmington Public Library as a memorial to her late husband, Wit Ledbetter. She said her husband, former owner and editor of the Farmington Press, member of the library board and mayor, had been an ardent admirer of the community and its history, since spending summers here as a boy with his aunt, Mary Ledbetter. She explained how Wit had eventually drawn a rough sketch of those items he felt should be included in a painting, which was eventually used as a basis for the mural done by area artist Michael Chomyk. The original pencil sketch is on display as part of the exhibit.
Other presenters throughout the afternoon were Chris, Twyla and Abbie Warren as a Civil War family; Nancy Cozean Jacob as Mrs. Westcoat, Plank Road toll gatekeeper and her friend Mrs. Overall portrayed by her great, great, great niece Lisa LaComb; and Elma Jennings as Sarah Barton Murphy, matriarch of Murphysboro and the founder of the first Sunday school west of the Mississippi River and first protestant church in Farmington.
Visitors were then invited to visit the exhibit area where board members served as docents to answer questions. The exhibit includes artifacts representing the 16 elements shown in the mural. Among them are old farm tools representing the original settlers and farmers; mining equipment from the Lead Belt Mines State Historic Mining Museum; relics from the Old Plank Road on loan from the Ste. Genevieve Museum including an oxen yoke and portion of the Plank Road; the school bell from the old Annie Lloyd School and items from the Carleton College founded by Eliza Carleton, along with many other fascinating pictures and objects. One of the very unique antiques on display that brings a lot of comment is a wooden infant’s coffin that was built by the Lang Wagon Company, an early 1800 business located on East Liberty Street.
As a special fundraiser a souvenir section of the St. Francois County Railroad track that came from North Street is available to be pre-ordered for a limited time. The sections are each between 6 to 8 inches long and can be purchased either in their original rough state for $25 or polished for $35. Each comes with a small plaque and certificate of authenticity. For purchase information, contact Jessie Williams at 314-609-0910.
The exhibit brings to life the early history of Farmington and its people who were the building blocks for today’s community. School and organizations are encouraged to make arrangements with Williams by calling the above number to tour the exhibit outside of the regular scheduled hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday beginning in February. Plans are for the exhibit to continue through April.
Anyone interested in becoming a part of the not-for-profit Farmington History Museum or in learning more about donating an item, should contact any board member or call Williams.
“While we were concerned that the severe weather conditions would keep people from attending, we were hugely gratified by the turnout.” — Jessie Williams, museum director.