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MEEKER | Think again if you feel a museum is just dusty old stuff and looks the same as the last time you visited. The White River Museum preserves our local history and is a fun outing for all ages plus a great opportunity for tourists. Said to be one of the largest curio museums in the nation, everything in the museum has been donated to the Rio Blanco Historical Society.
Recently, the museum has been revitalized, reorganized, and cleaned from top to bottom. Changes and improvements are ongoing. The lighting has been upgraded while exhibits continue to be improved with new layouts along with the installation of new, more readable labels.
Behind the scenes, staff and volunteers continue the maintenance and saving of archival records. Cataloging is being migrated to a digital format to ensure its preservation. Documents and photos are being scanned and then safely stored to archive as well. This is an ongoing endeavor and volunteers are welcome if you can help.
Executive Director Terri Rose Reed says improvements are going to be underway for a while. Even though it is history, it is truly a “living” museum with new activities all the time. “Visiting the museum should be an experience, a journey through time, not just looking at old things.”
Founded in 1949, the museum has continued for over 70 years preserving the past. If you’re not familiar with the museum, it includes a plethora of exhibits in multiple spaces, each devoted to a specific aspect of history. These include:
- Home area – butter churns, typewriters, cooking utensils from the 1800s, and a Hoosier wood stove.
- Gift Shop – over 25 book titles and many items related to our community are for sale with proceeds benefiting the museum.
- Bedroom – historic beds, a Murphy bed, plus handmade and handwoven comforters.
- Fashion, culture, music – instruments, garments, sewing machines, hats, and buttons.
- Community activities – clubs, organizations, events, and memorabilia.
- Outdoorsmanship – cowboys, sheep growers, sportsmen, homesteaders, tradesmen, ironworkers plus transportation including a 100-year-old stagecoach and 1940 Buick.
- Garrison – Ute History, the Milk Creek Battle story, and a military honors room that celebrates our local veterans. The garrison also depicts how soldiers were housed during their deployment in Rio Blanco County.
- Heritage Cultural Center – a meeting room available to the public for a small fee with surround sound and projection capabilities. Updates are in the works including a new stage curtain and improved snack bar, with a sink and stove. Local artists note: The art display fixtures and lighting are ideal for an art or quilt show.
- Outdoors – look ahead to a new outdoor forge with ironworking displays plus new signage for all the outside equipment items.
Among the thousands of items is a 100-year-old stagecoach that ran between Meeker and Rifle for many years, before the days of cars. The stagecoach is still in astounding condition and reminds us of transportation back in the day. You may have observed it in a July 4 parade pulled by those magnificent Belgium horses.
Recently, a 1940 Buick joined the collection. It was the property of the T.L. and Emma Ruckman family over many generations and found a permanent home at the museum in 2019.
More simply, a cookbook full of humor and down-home advice from Maggie Cassidy is on display along with hats, buttons, dresses, and other feminine items of the past. The cookbook is fragile and locked up, but the pages inside will soon be on display in copied format.
Our museum contains something of interest to everyone. My out-of-town friends were astonished at the range of exhibits and preservation of history. Even if you’ve visited before, I think you will enjoy something different every time.
Educational programs are held when COVID restrictions allow. School groups, senior citizen tours, and visitors from other historic groups visit routinely. The museum is truly an educational opportunity for everyone.
For anyone researching genealogy or historical information, the museum also offers research assistance for a small donation. Obituaries, burial records, genealogy data, and more can be pulled from sources such as “This is What I Remember” and other archives.
For further information, visit https://www.facebook.com/preserveringourpast or www.rbchistory.org or call 970-878-9982. No admission fee is charged, although donations are certainly welcome. Current hours are Monday-Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 12-4. Private tours can also be scheduled.
Many thanks to Terri Reed for her contributions to this article.
By KAYE SULLIVAN – Special to the Herald Times