Webster’s define a museum “as a building, room , etc, for keeping or showing a collection of things having to do with art, history, or science, etc.” In Pettis County, the better description of the county museum might be a place where neglect and apathy by the public, government officials, and community organizations has made history redundant. The Pettis county Museum is currently on the brink of shutting down and having its collection of artifacts and documents parceled out to other entities. As of only a few days ago, the bank account reflected a balance of only $30.00.
While other area counties, such a Benton, Henry, Morgan, and Moniteau, have exceptional museums that nurture their county history, the rich history of Pettis County lies fallow, with no community support. The museum receives no funding beyond d that of membership dues, a few yearly fund raisers and the gifts of a few individuals who can no longer afford to do so. It has been forced the past few years to limit operations to two days per week , from March to October, and has not been able to offer any further services such as genealogical research or in depth education programs for students and the public in general.
The museum’s current situation began in 2004, when the Pettis County Historical Society was given their synagogue building by the local Jewish congregation that had been dissolved. At the time, some of the Society artifacts had for many years been on display in the court house lobby. The gift of the building enabled the establishment of the museum and relocation of the artifacts. Over the years, the reality of maintaining the building, and keeping utilities current, took a toll of the already meager treasury of the society. Attendance at the museum also never has reached viable numbers, due primarily to the poor location, far from the historic district around the court house.
The preservation of the history of Pettis county should be the responsibility of all its citizens. We have seen what community action can produce in viewing the well done Trails End Memorial at the Fairgrounds. The spirit that produced that project can also be applied to the resurrection of the county museum. The cost of doing so will be much less than that expended on the Trails End project.
A group of interested museum members and others are proposing that the museum be relocated back to where it belongs, in a building on the court house square. The present building is debt free and could be sold to help start the project. Beyond the building issue, a permanent form of support will be necessary to cover operating expenses. Other funds could still be generated through fundraisers and donations to help with yearly program development. A combination of funding from Pettis County, The City of Sedalia , tourism funds, and other organizations could easily cover the estimated $10,000.00 per year operating costs.
What is needed now is for local community leaders to step up and form a committee to save and relocate the Pettis County Museum. While some museum members will serve on this committee, it should be set up, chaired, and mostly be made up of those community leaders who have the genuine interest in seeing the history of Pettis County and Sedalia properly preserved and displayed.
Having the county museum in the Historic District would greatly increase attendance, provide another venue for tourists, and give the citizens of Pettis County a better representation of their heritage for generations to come.
Kenneth L. Bird
The Pettis County Historical Society