“What is your story, your history?” said Pottawatomie County Historical Society President, Tom Terry.
At 90 years young, he understands the importance of learning each other's history.
“We need an appreciation for what has happened to have encouragement for what will happen in the future,” said Terry.
The Pottawatomie County Museum and Historical Society focuses on cultivating that appreciation within Pottawatomie County. “Preserving our history since 1926” is their motto.
This museum stands within the shadows of the old railroad tracks and within the old Santa Fe Depot, completed in 1904, where at one point in history trains would come through every 10-15 minutes. This was the building that built Shawnee. After all, back then the towns went where the railroads went.
That railway, agriculture and, of course, oil is what kept Shawnee a bustling town. It wasn't until 1961 that the last passenger train rolled through and made a stop at the Santa Fe Depot in Shawnee.
Now, people that come through the train depot aren't there to hop on or off the train, they come to see the historical museum that has taken its place.
So, grab your ice cold sarsaparilla for just $2 and walk through the rich history of Pottawatomie County the museum offers.
The museum, located at 614 E. Main St. in Shawnee, has so much history that it has outgrown its space. They literally have history spilling out the doors; even the brick pavers you drive across to get to the museum were saved from the original 1905 Shawnee Main Street.
There's so much history, the historical society has built a whole new building to expand the museum and house some of the priceless artifacts forced to sit in storage, unseen by the public.
Sitting in the museum is a model version of Shawnee frozen in time in the 1940s, giving it a Mister Roger's Neighborhood kind of feel. There, you can see Main Street, the Santa Fe Depot and the Shawnee-famous hospital where none other than Brad Pitt was born while the train chugs along the track.
In the new museum, the model will embody the town in the 1960s where you can not only see Main Street but actually walk down it to get a glance at the town nearly 60 years ago.
Brad Pitt isn't the town's only claim to fame. Astronaut Gordon Cooper is also from Shawnee; as one of the only first American astronauts to not have his own museum, the historical society plans to pay tribute and honor him in the new museum. These are just a few of the new features future museum-goers can look forward to.
“Oh, we've got big plans, just takes money,” said Museum Director Ken Landry.
Money is what they are in need of. The new building has $1.8 million invested in it now and requires another $250,000 for completion.
The historical society is always raising money and has even been renting out a conference center in the new museum building to bring in revenue. The conference center stays booked according to Landry.
Generously, The Paul Milburn Foundation has offered to match their fundraising up to $25,000 to help make their plans a reality.
Some of these plans include an entire kids area where kids can play around in a model train with engine and caboose, they can go in a model one room school house and church as well as climb about a building modeled after a bank. After that, they can sit in the box car theatre as education and entertainment collide.
The historical society plans to offer field trip opportunities for every school in Pottawatomie County.
A former school teacher himself, Landry knows that education is the key. He hopes giving “youngins” history they can play in and physically see will cultivate an imagination within them that the younger generation has lost, he said. An imagination Landry believes was lost from an era of instant gratification through the internet and toys Landry couldn't have even imagined when he was a boy.
Landry recalled playing with sticks or jacks as his toys when he was a young boy and that it forced him to have an imagination. As he pointed out toys from different time periods, he was reminded just how far we've come.
The historical society hopes the museum will serve as a medium to remind people of just that. Progress.
Some of the historical society's progress Landry is most proud of is all the documents they have recovered and stored digitally. Most documents, some dating back to 1898, have been digitalized for the researcher's ease. Phonebooks starting from 1923 and Shawnee yearbooks from 1913 and beyond have all been scanned and digitalized.
In fact, this act is what Landry says is responsible for his deep knowledge of history, and Landry is full of historical knowledge. When he starts in on a story about some piece of history that may not be so well known, he lights up. Not only is he a walking history book for all things Shawnee and Pottawatomie County, but he truly is passionate about the knowledge he has and sharing that knowledge with others.
“It's really a life-long process,” said Landry. The older generation is always the generation that cares about history. As you age and come to face your mortality, Landry said you start to appreciate and wonder about history more. Who will remember it? Who will ensure the history we lived through lives on?
Ten years ago, he couldn't recall a time he'd been in the museum, and he was born and raised in Shawnee. According to Landry, it is the most well-kept secret for the locals.
He hopes the new museum building and restoration the old depot is scheduled to go through will change that. He hopes this will be thing that changes the minds of all the “youngins” so they can begin to appreciate history in order to cultivate a hope and encouragement for what progress the future of Pottawatomie County and beyond will hold.
The newest building of The Pottawatomie County Museum and Historical Society is not yet open, but plans to work toward raising the money will make its opening possible. To get more information about the museum or to make a donation, visit pottcountymuseum.org or call (405) 275-8412.