Mastodons once roamed Nebraska. The Webster County Museum in Red Cloud displays one of the largest jawbones discovered, as part of its paleontology exhibit. That fact, along with a lot more artifacts, helps tell the story of the south central Nebraska area. The museum has thousands of items on display dating back to the 1800s, and even further with the fossils discovered around the county.
Fast forwarding thousands of years, Red Cloud was founded in 1871 by Silas Garber, an American Civil War veteran and banker. Garber had a special admiration for Lakota Chief Red Cloud, and named the town after him. The town itself was situated in Pawnee territory.
The Webster County Museum’s collection comes solely from county residents. So, any old lanterns or kitchen utensils once belonged to a Webster County resident. County museums tend to do a great job in telling a local area’s history through the eyes of its residents. The museum has an excellent exhibit layout that runs three floors in the main building, as well as an implement storage shed and an additional display building.
The museum is located inside the old Damerell Mansion. Dr. Robert Damerell had the 21-room mansion built in 1909. The mansion was built using the Classical Revival style. The second owner, banker JW Auld added seven rooms to the mansion, so the museum has 30 rooms to fill.
The mansion has pillars in the front that make the entrance resemble a mini-White House. Inside, a music room includes instruments and phonograph players from the 1800s. One phonograph player still works. Teresa, the curator, played a song on it during our visit.
A fiddle that belonged to a local Civil War veteran is on display. Following the war, the man used his fiddle to raise money to help fund his trip back home.
The front room – receiving room – is full of furniture and photos from the 1800s and early 1900s.
The dining room has furniture and dishware from the 19th century.
The kitchen had some unique pieces on display. An early toaster is on hand. It would toast one side at a time. Teresa prepared a piece of toast and coated it for the display.
I loved the side attractions, such as accenting a hallway with hats.
The top level of the mansion was once used a dance hall or entertainment area. A couple of side nooks were called “whispering corners” or “Kissing closets.”
The area had benches that could line the walls, so people could rest or visit between dances in the middle. Now, musical instruments are displayed. An accordion brought back some memories of when my dad played. He taught himself how to play it. He wasn’t half bad.
Another section of the mansion displayed bedrooms from the 1800s and early 1900s.
An interesting section of the museum included some of the early land plats for the county.
Rifles from the early settler days give visitors an idea of what people went through to protect themselves and hunt.
One rifle and bayonet were used during the Civil War.
Early church life is available for viewing. The pews on display once belonged to old churches in the county.
One of my favorite rooms included a history of baseball in Webster County. Cy Young once worked in the area and played for a couple of teams. Major League Baseball honors its best pitchers of the National and American Leagues annually with the “Cy Young Award.”
Dazzy Vance played baseball in Red Cloud for a number of seasons. Vance was one of the members of the St. Louis Cardinals’ “Gashouse Gang.” The nickname was given to the team because of the players’ shabby appearance.
The Cardinals won 95 games during the 1934 season and went on to win the World Series.
Young and Vance are both in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Clarence Mitchell is a third player known for his local baseball ties. Mitchell played 18 seasons for six teams in the Majors during the early 1900s. He is a member of the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame.
As most communities are, the county is proud of its veterans. The museum does an outstanding job of telling the military history of its locals.
Webster County – in landlocked Nebraska – has had three men achieve a level of the rank of Admiral in the US Navy.
The veterans section includes a World War I display.
A set of walkie-talkie radios is on view.
The museum takes a look at the early days of postal delivery in Webster County.
Country schools once dotted the landscape of Nebraska, and Webster County wasn’t without its share. Old school desks and text books can be viewed.
Need a haircut? Check out an old barbershop display.
I suspect going to a dentist in the old days wasn’t much fun. It makes today’s dentistry almost bearable.
A doctor’s kit includes some actual medicine powder.
At the general store, you could buy some canned goods, along with a butter churner or other supplies.
Can you imagine doing laundry this way?
The museum has an interesting collection of farm equipment and a variety of vehicles on display in the implement barn. A thrasher is one of two big pieces on display.
A couple of buggies that once belonged to Silas Garber are on exhibit. Garber used one of them while serving two terms as Nebraska’s governor.
I saw my obligatory John Deere tractor (in honor of my dad. He loved John Deere tractors).
Webster County is the second regional museum we’ve visited that has a display of barbed wire fence styles. I find that intriguing.
Nebraska has gone through a series of license plate changes through the decades. We used to always have the outline of the state on plates. Different taglines were used – “The Cornhusker State,” “The Beef State,” etc.
The exhibit building currently has a collection of hats loaned to the museum by locals. They range from an old leather football helmet from the 1940s to a political campaign hat. The exhibit runs through the summer.
The Webster County Museum is definitely worth checking out as part of a visit to Red Cloud. It’s open April 1- Oct. 31. However, the museum does have a holiday exhibit during the Christmas season.
For more information, please visit www.redcloudguiderock.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Willa Cather Foundation and the Webster County Museum for the complimentary tour. However, all opinions and views are ours.