When Jan Sutherland brings visitors to the newly expanded Warren County Historical Society Museum, the reaction is always the same.
“People who have seen what this place was like previously, they are in awe,” said Sutherland, the historical society president. “They cannot believe it’s the same building.”
The nonprofit organization has completed an expansion and renovation project that has nearly doubled the existing 3,872-square-foot museum with the construction of the 3,820-square-foot Hummel addition. The museum is located at 102 W. Walton in Warrenton, a block south of the courthouse.
Historical society members are eager to unveil and celebrate the project’s completion. This weekend, open houses will be held to allow the public to tour the expanded museum from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, May 5, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, May 6.
The festivities will begin with a 1 p.m. ceremony Saturday with the laying of the cornerstone for the Hummel addition.
The expansion was made possible through a $850,000 gift from the estate of R. Stuart Hummel, of Sonoma, Calif. The donation was announced in May 2009. The addition was named for Hummel’s father, William, and uncle, Arthur. The twin brothers were born near Warrenton on March 6, 1884.
Stuart Hummel passed away on Dec. 16, 2007. He was 92.
The expansion would not have been possible without the gift from Hummel, Sutherland said.
“We just didn’t have the ability to change exhibits,” Sutherland said. “We just didn’t have the space. Now, people will be able to see a lot more things. We have already pulled a lot of things out that we put on bookcases and shelves that we were unable to display.”
Freise Construction served as the project’s general contractor. The Old Monroe-based company built the existing building in 1982. The expansion was designed by Kettelkamp Architect, Hannibal.
The expansion project included a large addition constructed to the west of the existing structure that features a large multipurpose exhibit hall, storage room and restrooms. An unfinished basement, measuring, 2,770 square feet, will provide space for more storage. A small addition also was constructed on the south side of the museum.
The 40- by 20-foot room will be used for the preparation of displays and exhibits, a much needed work place for volunteers.
In addition, the existing structure also underwent several changes, as the library was expanded and other renovations were made.
“There is no comparison between the before and after,” Sutherland said.
This weekend will be the first chance for the public to visit the museum since it was closed in January as construction crews wrapped up the project.
“For the size of community we’re in, you would be hard pressed to find a facility that is this responsive to the needs of the community to tell the story of Warren County,” historical society member Gene Cornell said.
“It’s an organization that will continue to grow. It started out in people’s living rooms. Ten years later, this building was built. The Schowengerdt property was added. In 30 years, it is just incredible what has happened here to make all of this available to the community.”
With the expansion project complete, the organization will be expanding its programs and having more exhibits on display. The facility also will have expanded hours, with the museum open Tuesday through Sunday beginning May 8. Previously, the museum was open only two days a week.
This weekend also marks the opening of “Mapping Missouri,” a traveling exhibit from the Missouri State Archives. The exhibit features seldom-seen maps from the archives’ collection.
On Tuesday, May 8, the historical society will host a program titled: “1861 – The First Year of the American Civil War,” presented by 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Keith Sutherland at 10 a.m. Then on Thursday, May 31, the historical society’s spring meeting will begin at 7 p.m., with a special program on the War of 1812 to be held that same evening.
Admission is free to all of the programs.
Later in the year, the museum will have a display from the state archives on Missouri fairs, Sutherland said, and an exhibit is planned detailing the history of the Central Wesleyan College.
In the past, the organization had to hold some events in other venues, such as the Belle Starr Theatre or the University of Missouri Extension office, due to the tight quarters. Sutherland said 100-people plus should now be able to comfortably attend a program at the museum.
Sutherland acknowledged that some work still needs to be finished on the addition, but offered that exhibits and displays will routinely be changed in the future. She said it’s not uncommon for people from across the United States to visit the museum to find information on their family or do other research.
“It’s not the same place it was a year ago,” she said. “It will be much more oriented to educating the public. When people walk in the door next year, they won’t have any idea of what they will see next year. Exhibits will be changed, exhibits will be added. We have the possibility to making this a wonderful museum for researchers as well as those who want to see the history of Warren County.”