Museum offers much to explore as Monona Historical Society marks 50th anniversary

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The Monona Historical Society will host a 50th anniversary celebration at the Monona Historical Museum on Monday through Saturday, Nov. 6-11, from 1 to 4 p.m. each day. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Each Tuesday afternoon, from 1 to 4 p.m., a group of wood carvers gathers in the museum’s Marting Carving Room to hone their skills and socialize with one another. Elmer Marting is shown working there, surrounded by some of the museum’s collection of over 400 different types, sizes and styles of hand carved chains. It’s the world’s largest known display of hand carved chains.

A portion of the old city jail is one of the many highlights at the museum.

The Monona Historical Museum is rich in historical artifacts, like Bob Drahn’s butterfly collection and school-related items (shown here). It also offers a plethora of publications and research materials for Monona and the surrounding area in the Willa Helwig History Center.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Monona Historical Society was organized in November 1967, after a group of community members felt the need to preserve the area’s history and artifacts for future generations. Now, 50 years later, the group’s goal remains the same.

The collection at the Monona Historical Museum, which opened on South Egbert Street in 1971, has doubled in the past 30 years, increasing from 3,300 items in 1981 to over 7,000 today.

“We’ve got some good history of the town,” shared Carol Marting, the Monona Historical Society’s first secretary-treasurer, who, along with her husband Elmer, still remains active with the group.

Among the museum’s exhibits are the old telephone switchboard, a portion of the city jail, Bob Drahn’s butterfly collection, small farm equipment, school items, kitchen ware and military memorabilia. 

Several rooms of the museum are furnished from the early-1900s period, when the Victorian home that houses the original part of the museum was built. 

Artwork from local artists is also on display. One of the highlights, said Elmer, is a set of paintings of local churches, created by Marian Beimfohr.

“The living room has close to a dozen paintings by Addie Egbert. They’re all oil painting landscapes,” Carol added. “She supposedly painted 1,000, but gave them all away.”

The museum’s most notable exhibit, however, is its collection of over 400 different types, sizes and styles of hand carved chains hung every three inches around the Marting Wood Carving Room, which was built in 1992. The collection is the world’s largest known display of hand carved chains.

“That makes us different,” Carol noted.

In addition to the chains, the carving room also contains the Gust Pufahl carving collection and the work of other area carvers.

Each Tuesday afternoon, from 1 to 4 p.m., a group of wood carvers gathers in the carving room to hone their skills and socialize with one another. The group draws both male and female carvers, ranging in age from 15 to 91, who travel from throughout northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin. (See next week’s North Iowa Times for more information.)

While the Monona Historical Museum is rich in historical artifacts, its collection of written and photographic information of not just Monona, but the surrounding area, is also extensive. 

The museum’s latest addition, the Willa Helwig History Center, named in honor of the museum’s long-time curator, opened in 2006. The “history room,” where people enter the museum, houses a wide variety of publications and research materials. 

“The biggest thing is the newspapers,” Carol said, referencing all the community’s newspapers dating back to 1892. The collection is in the process of being digitized and will soon be available online.

Other materials include the “Monona, Iowa 1897-1997” centennial history book, as well as several Clayton County history books and maps and the Melvin and Marian Beimfohr books about Giard, Froelich, Mills, Streams and the Women of Clayton County; early Clayton County marriage, birth, death and census records; cemetery listings; family histories and family surname files; and nearly a complete set of country school histories compiled by the Clayton County Genealogical Society.

“Starting in 1937, we have the complete set of Monona school yearbooks,” Carol said. “There was only one time during the war that they didn’t print one.”

Filing cabinets contain countless information about the early history of Monona, the area, people, houses, buildings, businesses, organizations, activities and more. Over 170 scrapbooks of photos and clippings offer unique glimpses into the past.

This material makes the Monona Historical Museum a prime resource for genealogy enthusiasts.

Carol estimated the museum receives at least one request each week seeking information.

“We’re getting more of it over the internet,” through email, she said. With the newspapers soon to be available online, and more easily accessible, she anticipates more people will also seek information that way. There are some things, though, that even the internet can’t provide.

“There are details we have about people that you won’t get online,” she stated. 

In 50 years with the Monona Historical Society, odds are Carol has come across it.

“When I get presented with a question, I say, ‘Oh, I remember that. Now, I just have to find it,’” she shared.

“This is the fun part for me,” Carol added, “collecting the written history. To me, you’ve got to save it.”

In order to recognize 50 years of keeping the community’s history alive, the Monona Historical Society will hold an anniversary celebration at the museum throughout next week, from Monday to Saturday, Nov. 6-11. People are encouraged to stop by from 1 to 4 p.m. any day to enjoy tours, refreshments and wood carving displays and demonstrations.

The Monona Historical Museum is open Monday through Friday, from 1 to 4 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays by appointment, all throughout the year. Anyone who’s interested in volunteering or learning more about the museum’s offerings can stop by, email or call (563) 539-8083.

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