History of the Jasper County Museum
It is generally known that the Newton, Jasper County Museum in Newton, Illinois was established in 1965 by the Newton Woman’s Club and the Newton Public Library Board. A handwritten manuscript found among materials kept by the Newton Woman’s Club, gives more details about those beginnings. A large storage room behind the library, which had moved into the Star Theater building in 1958, was remodeled to be used for the collection. (The complete, un-edited copy of the original manuscript is in the files of the Friends of the Museum kept in the computer desk of the Museum.)
In 1960 more than two hundred items of early Americana collected by two pioneer druggists, Henry and Frank Schackmann, were given to the Woman’s Club and the Newton Public Library Board by a daughter, Nell Schackmann, and granddaughter, Gertrude Doepel. While the unused room back of the library still contained the old stage and other theater accoutrements and was in very bad condition, its potential for a museum was recognized. The Woman’s Club, with the encouragement of the library board began to organize the items into a museum.
As soon as funds were available, the renovation of the storage room began. Two solid cherry wall cases and three matching floor cases were purchased from C.N. Kiser, an early Newton Jeweler.
All through the winter of 1964-1965, the mayor of Newton, Mr. Henry Brown, sent a crew of city employees to work on the room at no cost to the library. The men worked on days when the weather made it impossible to work out of doors. Fortunately for the library, it was a very bad winter allowing work to proceed quickly. The sloping floor of the old theater was filled in and covered with concrete so that it was level with the library floor. The walls were plastered. Steps leading down to the street from the exit door were put in and all was in readiness to plan for the museum itself.
Mrs. Glenn H. Sunderland, as president of the library board a member of the Woman’s Club, proceeded with the unfinished task of the museum with the loyal help of both organizations. Mrs. Elizabeth Stamm, president of the Woman’s Club, named two committees to lead the project. Mrs. Tressie Swisher was chairman of the working committee and Mrs. Ida Worcester was chairman of the fund raising committee. Many hours of cleaning, polishing, and creating displays followed.
The Woman’s Club purchased two more cases from Ira Fear which were painted to match the Kiser cases. The museum, while not finished, was shown to the public at an Open House on October 30, 1965.
Many other antique articles were given to the museum after the purpose of the museum became known. It soon was apparent that more display cases would be needed. In early 1966 information was received that an old jewelry firm in Terre Haute was moving to a new location and were offering their old cherry cases for sale. The Woman’s Club purchased three large cherry wall cases similar to the Kiser cases, and two floor cases. The set up was complete when Wm. Arndt, local merchant donated a small cherry case. (Note: At some time cases from the old Boos and Keavins store were added.)
The museum, containing items from the people of Jasper County, was officially opened to the public in the summer of 1966.
Through the years, the collection was maintained by Mrs. Sunderland with the help of Woman’s Club members, members of the Historical and Genealogical Society and library staff members.
The Friends of the Museum formed in January of 2000. One of their first goals was to inventory items in the museum. In addition, there was need for updating of displays.
In 2000 Mrs. Barbara Swearingen, librarian, received a grant from which allowed for complete remodeling of the premises, including a new ceiling, lighting, carpeting, and painting.
These changes required the removal of all items which gave the Friends an opportunity to inventory and clean items as they were stored. Upon completion of the remodeling, the group was able to rearrange cases, make identification labels for items and create new displays. The current collection consists of over 1500 items. The grand reopening was held in June 2003.
With generous donations from the community and other sources, improvements continued.