Museum’s additions, improvements result in a better understanding of history
HENNEPIN — To begin to understand what past lives were like in Putnam County, there’s no better place to visit than the Putnam County Ag Museum.
Located along Old Highway 26 in Hennepin, the building houses much more than just agricultural equipment. There are displays and artifacts from nearly every facet of rural life during the earlier days of the county.
Many improvements have recently been made to both the building and the collection, resulting in an enhanced experience for visitors.
“It’s absolutely fabulous, all of this brings back so many memories from when I was a child,” first-time visitor Marlene Fidler-Migliorini, who grew up on a farm near Granville, said during the museum’s recent annual open house.
Two of the many improvements to the museum are the addition of a display from the steel mill and an awning to protect the outdoor display of antique tractors and farm equipment.
Among those tractors is the first rubber-tired tractor in the county, which happens to be a barn-built implement. Constructed in Hennepin in 1932 from parts off a Ford Model A, a John Deere tractor and what appears to be a kitchen chair, the tractor is a testament to the practical creativity of Putnam County’s farmers of the past.
Other upgrades are improved lighting, ceiling fans, fresh paint, improved categorization and several additional displays. Visitors can see separate exhibits of items including a woodworking shop, a blacksmith’s tools, a butcher shop, rope-making, a post office, general store, a one-room school, an example of each room in a typical home, Native American artifacts, office equipment, children’s toys, laundry and cleaning equipment, stills, syrup collection, household items, corn, oddities, tools, sewing, wildlife, coal mining, barbed wire and more.
What makes the Putnam County Ag Museum so special is the majority of the displayed items originated from local families.
“I remember shucking oats with my grandpa,” Fidler-Migliorini said.
“We worked all day, but it was fun and it was all we knew. We had field work and also had to take care of our cattle, pigs and chickens every day. We’d all be dirty in school because we all had morning chores, but it didn’t matter because we all had more work to do when we got home,” she said.
Fidler-Migliorini said she misses the sense of companionship she shared with her family back then. She added she’s planning to bring her younger family members back to the museum to help them understand what life was like when she was a child.
“I’ve been gone from Putnam County since 1957, but so much of this is familiar. I’m going to talk my family’s ears off when we come back here. We used to work so hard. I can’t wait to teach them about how it used to be, because now I can’t even get my grandkids to take out the trash because they complain it’s too much work,” she said.
Hennepin’s 2018 Citizen of the Year, Fred Lippincott, was seen touring the exhibits during the open house and was appreciative of the experience.
“Where else can you go to see so many things from Putnam County’s past?” Lippincott asked.
There is far too much to see in the museum to include everything in one story, but items of interest are everywhere. Some small items may not mean much in regard to the overall collection, but are locally connected in such a way that their charm shouldn’t be underestimated.
For example, there’s a small noodle-making machine resting on a shelf. What gives it that special touch is a framed newspaper clipping showing two women from Magnolia working the machine during a nearby festival.
Another small exhibit is one with a heartwarming connection to the county’s past, the preserved hide of a handsome little pony named Bobby.
A young girl named Cora Wendt was born in the county in 1904. An only child, her nearly constant companion was Bobby. Each day, she rode him three miles to school. During the day, Bobby rested in a shed Cora’s father had built behind the school. Each week, her father replaced the hay and Cora was responsible for ensuring he always had water.
She also rode Bobby to visit family and friends on their farms and also to take her father lunch as he worked in the fields. After Bobby died, his hide was preserved and passed down through Cora’s family before being donated to the museum along with two photos of Cora and Bobby.
The Putnam County Ag Museum is a place every resident should visit. The displays provide a great example of local history, the everyday lives of the past, and how far and how quickly the world has progressed.
“This is our history. This museum is Putnam County,” Putnam County Historical Society member Sue Bruch said.