WEST CONCORD — When the old West Concord school seemed destined for demolition 25 years ago, a group of citizens formed the West Concord Historical Society, purchased the building and transformed the multi-level, brick edifice into a truly first-class museum.
On Saturday, the historical society hosts a dinner, with music and entertainment, as both a fundraiser for the society and a celebration of the 25 years the museum has been in existence.
Generations of students had studied, played, and developed into young adults in the shelter of the old school. Now, the classrooms beckon visitors in to view historical artifacts.
The oldest portion of the school was erected in 1902 and the building expanded as West Concord grew. But when the railroad moved out of town, West Concord’s population dwindled, and such a large school was no longer needed. In the early 1990s, the school districts of Claremont, Dodge Center and West Concord were consolidated into the Triton School District, and West Concord students began attending Triton schools. The last students left the West Concord building in June 1994, Historical Society Board President Colleen Hayne said.
When it appeared that the old school would be torn down, former students swung into action. The Historical Society purchased the building for $1, and the volunteers went to work.
The classrooms have been set up with differently themed displays. Among them are the “shell room,” which is full of hundreds of seashells from all over the world, a veterans’ room with uniforms and memorabilia from every war in the last century, rooms completely set up with appliances and furniture from past decades, a store filled with small antiques for sale, a huge model car collection, trophies from West Concord sporting triumphs, and artifacts from businesses that have come and gone during West Concord’s rich history. During its booming past, there were many types of businesses in town, including a hotel, a milliner, and a music store.
Museum employees and volunteers maintain the building and displays.
There are also rooms available for community’s use, and many meetings and activities are held there.
Old, brightly painted boilers installed in 1936 keep the building warm in the winter. Every cold morning, volunteer Bill Winter treks into the basement of the building and makes sure the boilers are up and running.
Almost all of the volunteers attended the school during its tenure as the town’s center for education. Photos from graduating classes are on display along with uniforms from band members, cheerleaders, and sports participants.
The historical society has asked Blue Planet Consultants of Rochester to complete an application to have the building placed on the National Historic Register. That designation would allow the group to apply for more grants. The museum is a 501c3 charity and stays in operation with memberships, donations, and charitable gambling proceeds from pull tabs sold in the bowling alley and the municipal liquor store in West Concord.
Saturday’s dinner will be held in the gymnasium/theater portion of the building. When that part of the school was built, the stage was placed on one side of the gym floor and wooden theatre seats were installed on the other side. After the tables are set up for the dinner, there will still be room for a dance floor. The band will perform on the old stage.
For keepsakes, guests will receive napkin rings fashioned from old silver spoons collected for the event.
The people who have made the museum come to life and are putting together the celebration include board member Darleen Gillard, who is in charge of the dinner portion of the evening. She is assisted by volunteer Jane Rundquist.
Emery Kleven, board vice president, will be the emcee for the evening.
Hayne and board member Del Paulson are seeking donations and silent auction contributions from businesses, churches, crafters and friends. Joan Paulson, former president and current secretary has been instrumental in planning the event.
Joyce Dubois, museum staff member and board member, and Laura Judy, staff member, keep the business office running.
Dan Lulf is the museum’s “technology whiz,” said Hayne. “He designed our invitations and posters and helps in countless ways with his expertise.”
And most importantly, “Volunteer Janis Ray is a fountain of information about the museum, the school and the town,” said Hayne.
“She comes to the museum almost every single day as a volunteer and has been the director of the museum for years. She celebrated her 90th birthday recently.”
If you can’t attend the ‘Night at the Museum’ celebration, the museum is open weekday mornings tours. Volunteers will be there to answer any questions.