Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Happy 10th Anniversary to Your Sutton Museum!

The Historic House built by John & Emma Gray in 1908.
A small cadre gathered in the fall of 2005 with some idea that our community could use, maybe even needed a group that would collect and preserve the story of Sutton’s history.

Okay. The tenth anniversary of the founding of the Sutton Historical Society occurred several months ago to some modest recognition by that small group. This spring marks another significant tenth anniversary for the Sutton Historical Society.

In those first months of getting organized, there were discussions about some of the historic houses in Sutton, most of which were no longer around, either torn down, moved out of town or otherwise diminished in historic interest.


But we were meeting in Aunt Emma’s Tea house on North Way Avenue, not a real early Sutton home, certainly not a big home, but a pretty neat home just the same. Then during one of our early meetings the Unterseher’s told us that after nine years they had enjoyed about as much of running the tea house as anyone deserved and would be selling it.

It was clear that this 1908-built retirement home of John and Emma Gray was a fine candidate for preservation – historically significant, in excellent shape, available and possibly even attainable.

A methodical fund raising campaign attracted numerous generous donors and soon we had a down payment for the house. In a weak moment, the folks at Sutton State Bank drew up a ten-year note allowing us to buy our new, and old home, The Historic House. That was in May of 2006 and that is the Tenth Anniversary we’re celebrating with this article. Yes, loan on the Historic House is paid off. Yeah!

In these ten years since the active members of the historical society made that commitment we’ve managed to grow to the three-building complex that is the Sutton Museum.

We acquired the rural school building that served District #55, the Wolfe School north of Fairfield giving us that vital link to a great part of frontier life – the country school.

The Rural School Museum, part of the Sutton Museum hosts the Sutton Schools 4th graders for two visits each fall as part of their Apple Valley block in which they reenact the country school experience.
And the original John and Emma Gray home, later the Ackermann and Ulmer home and most recently the Schinzel house became available and although not actually owned by the Sutton Historical Society, it serves as a museum with floor space and a roof overhead housing much of the Museum’s diverse collections.

So, although the majority of Sutton residents have not yet visited our museum and an embarrassing number (for us) still seem to have no idea we exist or what we’re doing, we continue to strive to meet the objectives of our mission:

To collect and preserve the historic artifacts and information about the Sutton, Nebraska Community.

So, what are we doing?

The Sutton Museum activities come in two parts: historic artifacts and historical information, kind of the hardware and the software of a museum.

The museum hardware is mostly the artifacts that the generous people of the Sutton community have donated, stuff that was squirreled away in attics, closets and basements. People are displaying their best when they realize that a prized possession or family heirloom could be somewhere where more people can enjoy it rather than gathering dust in a dark corner of the basement. Members of the historical society appreciate the opportunity to display these items but not as much as our visitors enjoy seeing, touching and learning to appreciate such items.

Our mission calls for us to collect and preserve items of the Sutton community so we do emphasize that each item should have a Sutton story. Not every one of them does. We accept, and appreciate items that expand our visitors’ knowledge and appreciation of the past. But if a similar item becomes available, and it has a Sutton story, we’ll readily swap out the old one. We warn donors of that possibility, and everyone, so far has agreed we’re on the right track.

So what is it we have? Our first major donation came from Odessa, Texas where a great, granddaughter of the Gray’s learned of our plans for the family home. She had the original dining room table and chairs from the Gray’s house and saw to it that the set came home. It’s back in its original spot and worthy of mention on every tour.

A prized item was donated by the Sheridan family, a large, six-foot tall wardrobe that was built by John Sheehy from trees on his Illinois farm for his daughter Ellen on the occasion of her wedding to John Sheridan in 1879. That’s pretty special, a classic 19th Century family heirloom with an intimate Sutton connection.

Small items dominate the list: commemorative plates, lamps, clothing from early settler families, kitchen items, mysterious objects worthy of showing up in our newspaper column and lots more.

We receive items that were connected to early Sutton businesses – advertising paraphernalia, gifts for customers, things like that. We have a bedroom set that was sold by the Honey Furniture Company, the first and largest furniture store ever to serve the Sutton community.
Timothy Hartnett's advertising button for his early bar was a popular
find for us. We have not heard from anyone who even knew there ever
was a fellow, or a bar by that name in Sutton. Finding these lost people
and things is a rewarding part of our experiences with the museum.

Some of the donations are especially fun such as the advertising button from Timothy Hartnett’s bar around 1900. Oh, there are lots of things.

Besides these items of memorabilia, the Stuff of Sutton History, our other effort is to collect and preserve the information about Sutton’s history, the Stories of Sutton History.

Frankly, and personally, the information about Sutton’s past interests me more than the artifacts. And from the standpoint of the Sutton Museum, if we tire waiting for people to come to the museum to learn about Sutton’s past, we can take Sutton’s past to them.

We’d written a few newspaper items for the Clay County News early in our existence and in the summer of 2009 we began our weekly column, “Clay County in the Rear View Mirror” where we pilfer items from archived newspapers from 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago.

Coincidently, that summer the first issue of Sutton Life Magazine appeared in our mailboxes and after a brief conversation with Jarod Griess our first magazine article titled, “Small Town, Big Story” appeared in his second issue in August, 2009. Habits can form easily and here we are still cranking out that weekly newspaper column and monthly magazine, even as I write and you read.

The research behind the column and the articles have uncovered a wealth of information about Sutton’s history, just the kind of thing we promised to “collect and preserve” about the story of the Sutton community.

In case you’ve missed it, a sampling of information we found that many admitted to not knowing, or had forgotten includes:


Walter Wellman started Sutton’s first newspaper at age 14 and later tried to become the first man to the North Pole, in a hot air balloon.

Dr. Madeline Leininger of Sutton became one of the renowned leaders in the nursing field founding a completely new branch of the profession.

Johnny Bender was a five-year letterman on Nebraska’s football team before coaching several college teams and inventing nicknames that survive today: Saint Louis University Billikens, Kansas State Wildcats, Washington State Cougars and Houston Cougars.

Mr. Herbert Johnson, again of Sutton, was a 1930’s political cartoonist who drew covers for the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman’s magazines.

William Gold learned the retail business in downtown Sutton before selling out in 1890 and opening one of the Nebraska’s premier department stores in downtown Lincoln.
Few people (almost none) knew that William Gold had a store in downtown
Sutton before he moved to Lincoln to found Gold's Department Store on "O"
Street. This ad is from 1888 about two years before he closed the Sutton Store.

The 1922 Sutton High basketball team was awesome.

Ummo Luebben invented the round baler in Sutton.

The first few years in Sutton generated a wealth of stories that must be retold again and again.

Settler stories about the Browns, Clarks, Grays, Maltby’s, French’s and so many more need to be dragged out of dusty books and newsprint and exposed to each Sutton generation.

Sutton once had an army.

The veterans, my goodness, there is a market for veterans’ stories which we try to fill.

Many, many of the several thousand one-time Sutton residents had lives which warrant at least a brief biography so their unique stories are not lost, forever.

We still surprise people when we mention that the round baler was invented in Sutton.
Some people came in groups, or can be categorized within a group where the collective story tells more than any individual’s story can.

The first Sutton settlers were veterans of the Civil War and came with a common experience each with a story that needs to be told.

Farmers and city folk from Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and elsewhere in the east migrated in search of a new life with all the variations of the story of the nation’s western migration.

Swedish farmers were Luther French’s first neighbors as they filed for those first 1870 homesteads, French laying the groundwork for the land that became Sutton and those Swedes attracting their countrymen to Saronville.

The first 22 families of Germans from Russia arrived in late 1873, the first such settlement in Nebraska.

Germans, English, Irish, Danes and others followed the Burlington, stopped to farm or open shops or find jobs, all contributing to the story of how Sutton came to be.

We collect and preserve their artifacts; we collect and preserve their stories.

Social media is the 21st Century way to tell stories and while some still resist, the rest of us adapt.  Our Sutton Life Magazine articles get re-purposed as posts on our blog at suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com along with many other tidbits and other relevant posts.

We have a Facebook page, a twitter account and join more than 600 Sutton-connected folks at the Facebook page, “You Know You’re from Sutton, NE when….”

We contribute to the family information at www.findagrave.com helping to tell the story of people who once lived in the area and to research family relationships.

Trivia questions about past businesses and their locations are always popular. We love to share ads in old newspapers that provide clues to people, businesses and other information about a period in our town’s past.

14-year old Orion P. Howe earned the Medal of Honor
at Vicksburg and thirty years later was a dentist in
Sutton. Sutton native Jacob Volz won his Medal of
Honor in the Philippines in 1911.
And, occasionally we uncover items that beg to once again become known locally. Such was the button advertising Timothy Hartnett’s bar, likely around 1910 or so, and worth including among our illustrations here.

Would anyone in Sutton today know about Tim Hartnett without our bit of fun with his provocative button? And how many know anything about that bartender’s wife? We recently ran across a news item describing how Veronica Hartnett began manufacturing poultry incubators in Sutton.

It’s common knowledge that M. M. Johnson employed a couple of hundred people in Clay Center mainly producing his version of the poultry incubator. Sutton’s Emil Ochsner had a similar, if much smaller business in Sutton – our museum has one of his products. And we have mentioned that a couple of Fairfield fellows also manufactured similar incubators.

Veronica Hartnett seems to have performed some one-upmanship on those guys with Clay County’s fourth such business with her combination incubator/brooder as she attached a larger section to the side where little chicks could get a start next to the kerosene lamp that warmed their eggs a few weeks earlier. She set up her manufacturing business in a downtown Sutton storefront in 1906.

Ferreting out these lost, or little remembered bits of Sutton history is rewarding. Hearing someone say, “I’d forgotten that” or “I never knew that” or “Are you sure?” in response to a bit of Sutton history uncovered in some obscure newsprint or website is pretty cool. It’s a shame that so few of us get this opportunity. But, if there is even a sliver of jealousy of our good fortune, why don’t you contact us and join us in these worthwhile efforts.

Someone contacts the news office, city hall, the library or the school every few days asking about Sutton history or information about some relative who once lived in our community. What happens then? They usually get my phone number.

We could sure use some help.

Carolyn Ackerman's doll collection is one of three collections at the museum along with
Beulah Ochsner's hats and paintings by the Ebert sisters and their art students.

We receive numerous old photos of Sutton and surrounds, many of which we can
even identify.





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