Keeping history alive in Mount Vernon
MOUNT VERNON — There is nearly 140 years of history in the town of Mount Vernon.
And for the first time, the community has a place to house its past.
The Mount Vernon Area Historical Society has found a new home for its museum in the sanctuary of the old St. Michael's Catholic Church, located on East Second Avenue in Mount Vernon.
The 100-plus year-old church with attached meeting hall was purchased by the city of Mount Vernon last year, providing event space for public activities in the attached worship hall. The sanctuary had not found a new purpose until local resident Roberta Olsen approached the city council in September.
Local resident Roberta Olsen has lived in the town nearly her entire life and has always wished that the city had a museum of its own.
"Having lived here most of my life, my grandparents were pioneers here, having a house full of old stuff that I wanted to keep. Then when the city turned the worship hall into an event center, I thought, 'What are you going to do with the church part and sanctuary?' So I asked the city, 'Would you consider having a museum if we formed a historic society?' So we did," said Olsen, the driving force behind the project and founding president of the society.
"If I would have known that there is so much red tape to this I would have never started it," she added, jokingly.
The city leaders were open to Olsen's idea, and Mount Vernon City Council Director Weston Frank suggested the city give the church and sanctuary to the historical society under a handshake agreement on a one-year-trial basis.
"I think there is a lot of interest, especially in small towns, of preserving the history," said Vicki Berg-Linke, secretary of the society.
Olsen and Berg-Linke met years ago while working together at the local post office in Mount Vernon. When Berg-Linke was going to retire and the post office was moving to part-time hours, the U.S. Postal Service offered her a number of the historical artifacts.
"We worked together at the post office. When Vicki was going to quit at the old post office, they were going to throw out all the postal things," Olsen said.
The ladies decided to save the historic postal artifacts and started filling Olsen's garage and basement with old newspapers, stamps, postcards and other unique items.
Among those artifacts is a telephone from the early 1900s that has traveled from Mount Vernon to the East Coast, the West Coast and now returned to Mount Vernon to be showcased in the new museum. The donors of this historic telephone are Violet Cornwell-Berg and her brother Delbert Cornwell, both graduates of Mount Vernon High School.
Another treasured possession is a wooden, delicately carved Monarch pump organ in mint condition, built in 1890 and fully functional, which was also gifted to the society.
A special area in the church is designated to the servicemen and women of Mount Vernon.
The society is requesting donations or loans of items with historical significance and/or pictures of all veterans from the area to complete its display in the military section of the museum.
The Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell assisted with gaining the proper paperwork for loans on historical items.
"We would like to get the word out that we are doing this, so that if anybody has items that they would like preserved, or that are of historical value, they can donate these items or loan them to us," said Linke-Berg.
Local businesses contributed grants totalling $1,500 to assist with the costs of founding the society as a non-profit organization, which was effective in January of this year.
The official open house of the museum is planned for the first weekend in October this year.
So far the Mount Vernon Area Historical Society has attracted 64 members. The annual membership fee is $15 per person or $25 per couple.