Riley County Historical Society celebrates centennial

The Goodnow House, located at 2309 Claflin Road, in Pioneer Park, was built and inhabited by Isaac Goodnow, a founder of both the city of Manhattan and of Kansas State University. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

“Try to imagine how thrilled I was when I moved here and Riley County had an active (historical) society and museum,” said Linda Glasgow, curator of archives of the Riley County Historical Museum and past president of Riley County Historical Society. “To have such a well-organized and professional place to work has been huge. One of the pleasures of my job is getting to work with some terrific people helping to preserve Riley County history.”

Riley County has many stories like this. Fourth graders tour the Wolf House each year to learn about domestic life in the 1880s. An independent publishing company produces books by local authors about the area. Smaller historical exhibits in Meadowlark Hills, as well as the courthouse and county offices, expand knowledge beyond museum doors. These community services are funded in large part by the Riley County Historical Society, which celebrates its centennial anniversary on Sunday.

“The historical society has been very helpful throughout the years,” Cheryl Collins, director of the county museum, said. “They’ve given us all sorts of money, volunteers (and) expertise in different areas. It’s been a really great partnership.”

However, the society is not actually a part of the museum. It is a separate organization whose mission is to, “collect, preserve and present the heritage of Riley County, Kansas by supporting, advocating for and promoting an interest and awareness of our local history, for the benefit of all.”

Gloria Freeland, assistant professor of journalism, is the current president of the society.

“We support the work of the museum,” Freeland said. “We collect, preserve and present items. We actually own artifacts in the museum. The society puts a lot of money into it, trying to make things a living, breathing history instead of just buildings.”

Some artifacts in the society’s possession contribute to exhibits around Manhattan, including:

“Forces II” at the Flint Hills Discovery Center is a collaboration between the society, the discovery center, the Riley County Historical Museum, Fort Riley’s archives and U.S. Cavalry Museum, K-State Apparel and Textiles and K-State Archives.

A hand-carved sunflower clock from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, hangs in local buildings like K-State Libraries, the Manhattan Public Library and the historical museum.

A corner cabinet owned by Territorial Sheriff Seth Child, as well as furniture from the home of Abby Marlatt, distributed amongst local buildings help visitors connect real people to some of the city’s most recognizable names.

According to the society’s website, it owns some of those historical buildings as well: Rocky Ford School, a one-room schoolhouse; Wolf House Historic Site, including a renovated 1880s boarding house; Hartford House, a prefabricated residence shipped downstream on a steamboat from Cincinnati in 1855; Goodnow House, a state of Kansas historical site; and the Pioneer Log Cabin in Manhattan City Park are all the society’s property.

According to the Riley County Historical Society website, its original museum was set up in the Pioneer Log Cabin in 1916. When city officials decided to build a civic auditorium in honor of the 101 Riley County men who died in World War II, the museum and its supporters hoped a larger museum would become part of the plans. That was not the case. Eventually, the museum expanded to the hand-dug basement of City Hall where they displayed items such as guns, glass, portraits and furniture.

“Since we’ve been collecting for over a hundred years, we have a lot of interesting things, we have a lot of odd things,” Glasglow said. “Without the Historical Society, we wouldn’t have all these things.”

The society’s current museum, located at 2309 Claflin Road, opened in 1976 – just in time to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial anniversary. The society provided funding in 1986 to double the building in size.

The centennial celebration will be held at Pottorof Hall on Sunday at 7 p.m. A small presentation on the historical society’s advances will be followed by a cake and punch reception.

However, the celebration is not only to commemorate the past.

“(The centennial celebration) is a look towards the future,” Collins said. “It gives us time to step back and appreciate what we’ve done.”