HISTORY IN THE MAKING
By Barry Dalton
VANDALIA—The largest crowd in Vandalia’s history congregated downtown 110 years ago this month to hear William J. Bryan, a three-time presidential nominee and “one of the world’s greatest citizens,” according to the Vandalia Leader at the time.
The crowd was estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, and a photo of the parade can be viewed at the Vandalia Area Historical Society museum, located at 112 S. Main St., Vandalia.
This is not your typical small town museum.
Having received more than $200,000 in grants over the past decade, the Historical Society has not only renovated and expanded its museum into a three building complex, it has curated a collection of photographs and objects a big city museum would envy.
The museum’s displays focus primarily on Vandalia and Farber but many encompass surrounding areas and give insight into national trends and events.
When Ulysses Grant passed through the area before the town’s founding, he is reported to have said the land was uninhabitable.
The Vandalia museum’s collection of historical photos begs to differ, bringing the town’s relatively brief history to life, and proving Grant’s first impression decidedly wrong.
“Every town has its history, just like every family does,” said Paul Ray, who was a member of the center’s first board of directors and is a former president of the board. “It’s not an old town—1874. This town had its heyday.”
The museum is brimming with interesting historical eye candy highlighting everything from agriculture, architecture and local industry to whiskey and windmills.
“We’ll bring in personal displays [of residents] just for uniqueness,” Paul said. “Like for example whiskey containers. So we’ll let people display their unique things just to create turnover.”
In addition to the museum’s relatively large collection, every year the museum also has a special featured display for that year only.
This year’s display is Main Street. The museum closes for the season on Nov. 1 and will reopen in May with a new display.
“We try to turn over our displays frequently,” Ray said. “To keep it interesting and keep people coming back. This [year’s] display is about what happened on Main Street. The heart and soul of the town as we call it.”
Ray says the museum tries to document everything it displays or stores, and also has a genealogy library. You can see a medical cadaver from 1925, scary props used in secret rituals, coats made of bison pelts and horse hair, military items and more.
In addition to its splendid display of historical photos and artwork, where the museum really excels arguably is documenting Vandalia’s prominent citizens over the years, such as Aaron McPike, founder of Vandalia, C.J. Daniels, Dr. R.L. Alford, Dr. J.C. Parrish, Dr. Mary Alice Parrish, Raymond Motley, Gene Chipman, Richard Kohl, William Waters, Ben Salmon, Joseph Vorst, Officer Orville Rosenstengel, Dr. Elenore Schewe and Charlene Teague, among many others.
The Vandalia Historical Society is a private, nonprofit 501-C(3) organization with a board of directors and staffed by volunteers. It receives funds through grants, donations, special events and an upcoming garage sale.
The museum is open on weekends, noon to 4 p.m., May to November. Private showings can be arranged depending upon staff availability.
The museum’s three buildings house an enviable collection.
Outside of the Vandalia Historical Society buildings.