A determined community turned a home facing demolition into a museum 

“Too much is being torn down. Words in a book don’t impart the same meaning as seeing something in person making the general public and, as importantly, student awareness poor,” Ann Lancaster, who works with the Victorian Thompson House, tourist attraction in Tahlequah, Okla., said.

Cherokee County owned the rundown 1889 house that was scheduled to be torn down in the 1980s. A quickly-organized group petitioned the County Commissioners to spare the home and the Cherokee County Vicic Cultural Organization was awarded a 99-year lease for $1 as the first step in restoring the home and opening it as a museum.  

The group believes saving the home offers visitors a better understanding of Cherokee history and the home, which belonged to Dr. Joseph Thompson.

Dr. Thompson was the son of a prominent Tahlequah and Vinita businessman named Johnson Thompson, who arrived in the area as a child with his parents before The Trail of Tears Cherokee removal. Thompson was first educated at Indian University and then earned his medical degree at Missouri Medical College in 1889, the same year he married his wife Lulu Elliot, and moved into the home, where construction began in 1882. In addition to being a respected medical doctor, Dr. Thompson was also an accomplished pianist, an artist, and an expert with Cherokee bow and arrows. Lulu also had artistic tendencies and wove rugs for many Tahlequah homes of the era. The family lived in the house until Dr. Thompson died in 1935 at age 68. Lulu then moved to Arizona. House ownership passed to a loan company and later other entities, such as the Cherokee County Health Department from 1940 to 1976, until it was scheduled to be demolished and subsequently rescued by Tahlequah citizens.

Restoration began in 1984 with furnishing completed and the museum opening in 1990. The antiques were purchased outright, donated or given on long-term loan. The front parlor features a Queen Anne bay window with mostly original stained glass, and almost all of the woodwork is original. Another essential feature is a newly acquired dining room set purchased in Washington D.C. in 1902.  

In the kitchen is an old possum belly cabinet, which was common before built-in cabinets. It has two pullout curved tin drawers at the bottom that resemble a possum, thus the name for those early cabinets.

No tax or grant money was involved in restoring the beautiful Queen Anne home. All restoration was completed through fund raising and donations. True to the spirit of Tahlequah, community involvement does not end there. Currently, the Bank of Cherokee County maintains the lawn, County Commissioners help with parking area maintenance and the city of Tahlequah picks up trash, as well as helping with fallen tree limbs.

Since student education is a priority, the museum offers students two days during the school year to experience a fun, interactive and information-packed field trip with one group of 40 students coming from rural schools and another from Tahlequah. Students are divided into smaller groups with activities, including shucking and grinding corn, washing clothes on a rub board with homemade lye soap, singing old songs in the parlor and playing outdoor games.

Continuation of the home is heavily dependent upon memberships and annual fundraising events. A large fundraiser is a three-day Victorian Christmas open house on the first weekend in December. The house is fully decorated with several trees sparkling with replica Victorian ornaments. Home baked goods are available with mini loaves of fruit and nut breads and a wide variety of cookies. The Thompson House pepper jelly and fudge have been favorites for many years.

Another way of raising money for the museum is renting the house for parties, weddings and baby showers. The Tahlequah Fire Department set a limit of 50 people within the house, though the beautiful grounds can accommodate more.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here