LIBERTY — With large grants and donations pouring in, hopes are to open the Liberty Heritage Museum by next year.
Warren Dixon, chair of the Patterson Cottage Committee, and Terry Crouse, president of the Friends of the Patterson Cottage, are working together to not only preserve the cottage but to renovate a downtown building to serve as a historical museum.
Dixon said that when the 1884 Patterson Cottage, believed to be the oldest residence in town, was donated to the town in 1974, there were thoughts of making it a historical museum. But there were problems with the structure, such as it being a frame house lacking in security with no heat or air-conditioning.
Interested parties began to see it more as an example of an 1800s home, with tours offered.
Meanwhile, local folks were donating historical items for a museum (now being stored in several locations), including fragile papers, textiles and photos at the Liberty Public Library. There needed to be a place to store and display those items.
“We wanted to give the people of Liberty a museum to be proud of,” Dixon said, “to attract tourism that would also benefit the downtown area. We want to tell some stories with the museum.”
Other donated items are Jamestown and Civil War rifles, arrowheads and items manufactured by the A.E. Staley Co., which originated with a man from the area who moved to Illinois to start his starch business.
Initially, organizers considered building a museum on land across from the library. “Then COVID hit and the realization that building costs had tripled,” Dixon said.
In the fall of 2021, Liberty Hardware went up for sale but no one was willing to buy it as a hardware store.
“We bought it with everything in it, then sold the hardware to Liberty Farm & Garden,” Dixon said. “We were pleased with this. It worked out for the best — downtown with parking and near the theater.” Dixon can picture folks coming early for shows at the theater, eating dinner and visiting the museum before watching the show.
Another issue was money, which came into place when the state budget included $50,000 for the Patterson Cottage/museum, $99,000 from the county from strategic planning funds, another $50,000 from Liberty United Methodist Church’s Ella Lowe bequest and a total of $17,500 from the A.E. Staley Family Foundation.
There have also been private donations from local residents as well as people from other states who have an interest in Liberty. And fund-raising is ongoing, Dixon said, for future expenses such as insurance, special projects and maintenance.
“This is something we’ve needed for a long time,” Crouse said. “We’re now storing items in five locations. The hardware
store filled the needs, with lots of display counters that can be used for the museum.”
Renovations will be necessary to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, such as handicapped accessibility, two restrooms, reconfigured exit doors, exit lighting and a battery-powered electrical backup.
Crouse said the building footprint is 3,000 square feet, with some 1,500 square feet available for museum displays and walk-around space. He estimated the cost of renovation between $20,000 and $30,000, depending on donated materials and volunteer labor.
He projects opening of the museum in one year.
“We want to do things right the first time,” he said.
Some of the historical items collected include a doctor’s buggy from the 1920s, handmade furniture from the 1800s made by Liberty natives and “a lot of stuff from pat businesses, such as advertising.
“Some things have monetary value and others just historical significance to Liberty. We’re hoping for more items to be donated to this secure location for people to enjoy.”
Crouse said the Liberty Fire Department “has done a great job saving memorabilia, photos, a lot of stuff.” That includes the original hose cart that predates the department.
“The Police Department has some stuff,” he said. “We hope to have photos of past chiefs and veterans.
“We want it to be a museum that people don’t come to just once but will want to come back,” Crouse said. That means it has to be dynamic, with more items coming in rather than the same thing all the time.
“We’re partnering with civic groups and churches to create displays about liberty,” he added.
Security at the former hardware store, Crouse said, would be updated with alarm and camera systems and the new doors.