Historic building houses museum

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Buffalo Island Museum in Monette grand opening was held Saturday, May 30, marking the restoration and completion of an Eastern Craighead County landmark.

The museum is located in the former First National Bank building, at 207 W. Drew Street, at the Highway 139/Highway 18 intersections. David and Karen Wallace of Leachville donated the building to the city. The classical revival-style building has been completely renovated, inside and out, to house the Buffalo Island Museum, which was formerly located in the old Monette High School building at the city park.

Pictured at the Buffalo Island Museum ribbon cutting Saturday, May 30, are, from left: Mayor Chub Qualls, Museum Chairman Ernestine Harrell, Beautification Representative Linda Qualls, State Representative Ray Kidd, State Senator Paul Bookout, founder's daughter, Kaye Pitts Wallace, building donors, Karen and David Wallace, Keith Wallace, Carter Wallace and Larry Wallace. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

The former bank building was originally constructed in 1918 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,

The opening was continued on Sunday, from 1-3 p.m., with Mark Grisham, youngest brother of John Grisham, signing copies of "Bedlam South." Mark Grisham, a native of Buffalo Island, co-authored his book with his good friend, David Donaldson, last year.

The first Buffalo Island Museum was founded by Gerald "Boots" Pitts and formally dedicated in1997. It was housed in the former Monette High School lunchroom at the city park. Original museum committee members included Pitts, Jerry Reed, Joyce Chrisman, Roma Harper, Skip Layne, Chub Qualls and Kathy Qualls.

Pitts passed away in 2005 and the City of Monette continued to maintain and operate the museum. Friends and family of Mr. Pitts were in attendance at the grand opening.

Under the leadership of Mayor Chub Qualls, the city applied for a grant in 2008 to restore the bank building and relocate the museum. Ernestine Harrell serves as chairman of the Buffalo Island Museum Committee.

"The renovation has been a very costly project, but we feel it is worth it," Qualls said. "The roof has been replaced, floors reworked, walls repaired, bath rooms installed, and refurbished from one end to the other."

"City employees and the Museum Committee have worked non-stop to move the items from the old building to this building," Harrell said. "We have purchased new showcases and display structures. We plan to move everything we can before the open house but may still have some work to finish afterwards.

"We have had many people make donations, both financially and physically. It takes a lot of effort to box up items and move them without harm. We are keeping detailed records of the items on display and the people who donated them. There is a lot of history here and something for everyone to enjoy."

"We plan to keep the museum open as many days as possible in the future," Qualls said. "There seems to be a lot of interest in this part of the country for museums, as people value their heritage. This building is a perfect location for the museum, and we are thankful to have it looking so good."

Items of interest in the museum included a school bell donated by long-time educator Edna Mae Freeman. The bell was founded by her father in the 1920s, as he returned home from a livestock sale near Bay. Mrs. Freeman was the former high school principal at Monette High School and Craighead County School Supervisor.

A large hand-hewed dugout canoe was on display in the game section of the museum, along with antique guns, animal skins and fishing memorabilia.

No museum would be complete without the reference to the use of an outhouse, the forerunner of bathroom facilities, only without plumbing. A large outhouse was on display with other necessities of the day, which included hand tools, saws, pick sacks, wash kettles, and scales.

A period bedroom displayed a bedstead and rope springs from the 1800 era, topped with a stuffed mattress, feather bed and pillows, hand-quilted "Wedding Ring" spread, and embroidered pillow cases. The area had such a problem with bed bugs during the turn of the century that the government provided new ticking in the 1940s and encouraged people to stuff the mattress with seedless cotton.

The wooden Sears wheelchair was reminiscent of the 1920s and '30s, and was displayed in the medical clinic along with equipment and display cabinets.

An ice box used in the late 1800s was lined with tin and insulated with various materials, such as cork and sawdust, to accommodate a large block of ice delivered from the Monette Ice House, formerly located on Northeast Main Street in Monette. The building is still standing today.

The 1890 Jones Family Bible was on display in the historical research room upstairs. It included the marriage certificate of Mary Brown and John E. Jones, July 24, 1887, witnessed by "the presence of the crowd." Inside the Bible was a pledge signed by the members of the family, which read, "Believing it can be better for all concerned, we solemnly pledge, by the help of God, to abstain from the use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage."

A large stand held Frederic's Electrical Hair Curlers. The stylist of the day would wrap hair from the tips of the tresses to the scalp, and then turn on the electricity. The curlers take on the appearance of a milking machine. It revealed a tedious and sometimes dangerous endeavor to obtain permanent curls. The steam often scalded the scalp as the customer was teetered to the machine all day long.

The Stottsville Post Office wooden mailbox was on display, and revealed 16 boxes and one drawer, used by former residents. Stottsville was a small pioneer town located south of Monette and was bypassed when the Jonesboro, Lake City and Eastern Railroad (JLC&E) made its way to the eastern bottoms of Craighead County from Nettleton. Lee A. Drew wrote in his book about the JLC&E history of an Arkansas Railroad, "August 19, 1898, the first train, an excursion special, entered the little town of Monette, in the heart of Buffalo Island."

Museums document and preserve history so that the people of today and tomorrow can learn from it. The Monette Buffalo Island Museum Committee has taken on the challenge of doing just that. Committee members include Mayor Chub Qualls, Ernestine Harrell, chairman, Diana Sanders, layout designer, Louise Baker, Janie Miller, William Piercy, Betty Pyland, Joyce Read, Donna Rolland, Royal Tilley, Martha Wallace and Mike Wallace.

Special commemorative plaques of appreciation were presented to Ernestine Harrell, Diana Sanders, Jerry Reed, Mike and Karen Wallace and Sharon Pitts Wallace.

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  • Hi Everyone in AR! I just wanted to say how good it was to see everyone in Monette, Ar on the last weekend of May. I left my email address at the museum for a picture of my Grandmother Sally (Hout) to be sent to me. How can I check on it? Also I have pictures I would like to send. Thanks so much, Janet Yates Raper

    -- Posted by Yates on Mon, Jun 8, 2009, at 9:42 AM
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