Farm opens to give visitors a glimpse of old-time farm life

04/24/2013 10:49 AM

05/20/2014 10:43 AM

The Atkins-Johnson Farm and Museum opens in Gladstone Saturday, capping several years of preparation as craftsmen, curators and volunteers worked to refurbish the home and allow visitors a sense of 19th century rural life in Clay County.

“I would like visitors to be entertained and get a little bit more of an idea of what life was like for Clay County pioneers, how it was different but also how it was similar,” said museum manager Erica White.

Gladstone purchased the home and two surrounding acres at 6508 N. Jackson Ave. in 2005. Two years later the property was named to the National Register for Historic Places. Gladstone officials soon initiated work to stabilize the property, installing a new roof and adding security lighting and fencing.

Work began in 2011 on interior renovations of the main home, which incorporates an original log cabin built between 1824 and the early 1830s.

Last fall members of the Friends of the Atkins-Johnson Farm, a volunteer support group, got their first look at several “truth windows,” or cutaway views inside the home that allow visitors to examine the techniques used in the construction of the antebellum building. One “truth window,” for instance, placed in the floor of the home, showcases the original limestone that serves as the home’s foundation.

Since then text panels have been installed to better allow visitors to interpret what can be seen through the windows, White said.

Two other projects have been completed since last fall.

The first was the installation of period-appropriate wallpaper in the dining room, a reproduction of an 1890s print. During renovation, workers discovered remnants of several wallpaper patterns that had been used in the home, White said. Currently the home has eight layers of such wallpaper on display in the home’s living room.

A second addition is the installation of a reproduction mantle over the dining room’s fireplace.

“When the city purchased the home, the mantle had disappeared,” White said. However, working from photographs from family members who lived in the home, a woodworker was able to render a reproduction.

Administrators also have set aside exhibit space in the home’s parlor. On display through Aug. 31 is “Farmland: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors.” Developed by the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, Wis., the exhibit picks up the story that the Atkins-Johnson home starts in the early 19th century.

Other period artifacts are also on display, some of them on loan from the Clay County Museum and Historical Society in Liberty.

Still other attractions will be available outside. One is a garden that will be planted with foods that would have been familiar in the 19th century, among them squashes, onions, herbs and melons. Volunteers also have been working to make the nearby Big Shoal Cemetery more friendly to visitors. The cemetery is the final resting place for six Civil War veterans and one veteran of the War of 1812.

The history of the site dates to 1824, when William Allen received land grants for 240 acres. In 1834 Jonathan Atkins purchased the farm. Members of his family operated it through the early 20th century, raising livestock, planting crops and operating a steam sawmill and a blacksmith shop.

Various members of another family, the Johnsons, lived in the home beginning in the 1920s.

“As someone who works in museums, I love seeing the generational gap bridged, when grandparents can tell their grandchildren that their mother used a particular item in the kitchen or on the farm,” White said.

“We want to start those kinds of conversations.”

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