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Lake County Museum revitalizing exhibits, adding programming | News | madisondailyleader.com – Madison Daily Leader

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COURT WECK, community programming assistant at the Lake County Museum, has been instrumental in preparing a kid-friendly, interactive exhibit using the claim shanty which was in the museum’s collection.

COURT WECK, community programming assistant at the Lake County Museum, has been instrumental in preparing a kid-friendly, interactive exhibit using the claim shanty which was in the museum’s collection.

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The Lake County Museum has a new look and more dynamic programming as a result of a grant-funded position currently held by Courtney “Court” Weck.
Hired as community programming assistant with ARPA funding through the South Dakota Humanities Council, Weck introduced the History Happy Hour at Sundog Coffee, organized school tours and helped to plan a reorganization of the museum, including an interactive, kid-friendly exhibit.
“It’s only the beginning,” Director Julie Breu said in a recent interview about the museum’s new look. “It will change even more.”
The claim shanty, which had been hiding in a back corner, is now located near the museum entrance. The rolling cabinets have been used to create an archive room and open the main exhibit area for a chronological narrative of the county’s history.
“When the wagon is done, it will be front and center,” Breu said about the covered wagon. “Because it’s so dry, I’m afraid to move it.”
Plans are under way to have the covered wagon restored by Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop of Letcher. The company’s website indicates they have a team including specialists, including a wheelwright, blacksmith, wagon maker and preservation expert.
The projected cost is $5,000. Thus far, $3,800 has been raised for this project.
Breu and Weck have had one goal in mind as they have embarked on revitalizing the exhibits: to make the museum a destination. Moving the claim shanty and allowing children to play with replicas of period-appropriate eating utensils and toys is one step toward achieving that goal.
“We have aprons for them to wear – bonnets, hats, suspenders,” Weck said.
Breu indicated the shanty was in the museum when the museum doors originally opened. Research they’ve conducted has led Breu and Weck to believe it’s a medium to large shanty; many were smaller.
“George Smith built it as a replica of what his father built when he came to the county in 1878,” Breu said.
Part of Weck’s work has involved creating materials which can be used after she leaves the museum, which is sooner than expected due to another job opportunity. Weck will take over as children’s librarian at the Madison Public Library after being approved by the city commission.
“Court is working on some interpretive panels,” Breu said. She has also developed a scavenger hunt that families can use when they visit the museum.
In addition, Weck has created materials for school tours which can be used either by teachers or by volunteers. The activities planned for the various grade levels differ.
“I aligned the field trips with grade level standards,” she said. “Teachers can check ‘We met this standard by coming to the museum’.”
In preparing materials for the school tours, Weck has mined the archives, stumbling across some rich source material. As often as not, these were discovered by accident because only a fraction of the collection has been indexed and what has been indexed is not in a searchable database.
Among her discoveries was a typewritten speech on paper fragile with age. It was given in the 1940s by Alice Boyd and her brother, J.W. Boyd.
“They moved here as children in that wagon,” Weck said, pointing to the wagon which will be restored.
Conducting research has unearthed some surprising information. Weck has learned that many of the families moved to the area in the fall, which seems odd to her considering how harsh the winters can be.
“In this area, the dad or male relative would come out in the spring and build the claim shanty,” Weck said. That would start the clock under the Homestead Act. “Then, they would return to get their families.”
Supply lists inevitably include at least one cradle — often more than one — and births were recorded in a matter-of-fact way. A pioneer may record having difficulty yoking oxen one day and the next note “welcomed third daughter,” according to Weck.
“The amount of pregnant women on these journeys is unbelievable,” she observed.
In learning these things and putting together materials for visitors, both school tours and others who stop in to view the exhibits, she has been working to create both a larger context and a local connection.
“We’re trying to get a well-rounded history,” Breu said.
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