Bolivar’s North Ward Museum features displays donated by community members

An authentic log cabin from 1867, a 23-foot stuffed boa constrictor, a wanted poster for Jesse James and memorabilia from President Harry S. Truman. These are just some of the artifacts on display at The Polk County North Ward Museum in Bolivar, Mo. The museum is operated by the Historical Society of Polk County, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum opened July 4, 1982, in a building which was built in 1903, and originally housed the local high school.

“We had a museum in the old jail, and the old jail was small, and in bad shape,” curator Margret Vest explained. “So this was bought by an individual, and given to the society to be made into a museum.”

The historical society renovated the building with money raised from yard sales and donations from teachers and students of the former school.

“A lot of the window panes were broke, pigeons were in here. It was quite a mess for a while,” Margret said. “But it has turned out to be fantastic.”

The museum is housed in a three-story brick building, and it’s easy to see the remnants of the school.

The building has a long history serving the people of Polk County. It was used as an elementary school in the 1950s. After closing for a time, it reopened for kindergarten and first-grade students.

A lot of work keeps the museum running and the displays in good order.

“We’re having a hard time keeping the squirrels out of our log cabin,” Margret said with a smile.

What makes the North Ward Museum different from many other museums is the easy access of each display. Most of the artifacts are within easy reach, and can be handled, albeit with care.

People of the surrounding communities donated most museum pieces.

The McCraken Room contains items belonging to a prominent family in Polk County. An antique dining room set graces one corner of the room, complete with china. The Knights Templar was active in this part of Missouri, and a uniform from the organization is displayed.

Another room doubles as a meeting room for the historical society. There is a collection of maps, dating from the 1800s. Oil paintings of the surrounding countryside grace the walls.

The Campbell Room is named after a family that moved to Bolivar, Mo., in 1830. There is hand-painted china, painted by a member of the Campbell family, who began the project when she was 85 years old. There is also a collection of Civil War bonnets.

The Blue Room boasts horse hair furniture and a collection of wedding dresses. For those interested in fashion, there is a 1948 Christian Dior women’s suit.

The annex was added 30 years ago and contains antique farm equipment, a Ford tractor from 1922 and a fringed buggy. There is a reconstruction of an 1800s kitchen, and reconstructed country store and post office.

The second floor has a large display of military memorabilia, including uniforms and model planes. There is also a flag dating from World War II that was part of the Potsdam Conference.

The loft housed the science department of the high school. It now contains a hat collection, and antique toys and dresses.

Visitors can explore the log cabin. It is larger than most cabins from the era, with a loft, accessed by a closed stairway.

Getting artifacts ready for storage over the winter is a time consuming process.

The clothing, antique paperwork and other stored items are carefully packed away.

“We found the best way is to use bay leaves and whole cloves, and sprinkle everything with it to keep it fresh. It’s all natural,” Margret explained.

Staffed by volunteers, the North Ward Museum is open mid May to mid September.


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