MURDOCK – Murdock residents have viewed their historical items as golden treasures to be saved, preserved and appreciated.
That commitment to the past has helped a local organization reach its silver milestone.
The Murdock Historical Society is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Members of the group have collaborated on numerous historical projects since 1993 and have protected many objects from the town’s early days. The Murdock Historical Society operates a museum and one-room schoolhouse in town and has worked with schools, churches and other organizations on historical projects.
Murdock Historical Society member Dale Vanderford Jr. said the group’s goal is to act as caretakers of the town’s rich history. Many pioneers passed by the present-day site of Murdock while riding the Oxbow Trail in the mid-1800s, and settlers established the Cass County community in 1890. The creation of the society has provided a forum for people to talk and learn about many of the key moments that have taken place over the decades.
“Most of all I think the historical society brings out discussion of history, historical events and locating historical items,” Vanderford said. “When people know you are with the historical society, they will ask you questions, or they will be more likely to answer questions or show historical items.”
The seeds for the eventual formation of the Murdock Historical Society were planted during the town’s centennial celebration in 1990. Many people gathered items of historical significance and put them on display in the old gym at the high school. Residents brought enough objects to fill the entire space of the gym.
Vanderford said many people who viewed the centennial displays appreciated their historical importance. Centennial organizers heard many comments about the possibility of keeping all of the objects together in one place so they could be preserved and viewed on a continuous basis.
The idea of the Murdock Historical Society began to take roots in 1993. A group consisting of Maxine Cline, Gene Backemeyer, Bruce Stock, Charlie Schafer, Dale Vanderford Sr., Dale Vanderford Jr. and Angie Friesell held multiple meetings about maintaining the town’s historical items. They decided to officially form an organization and began planning the creation of a permanent museum to house local artifacts.
The group opened the Murdock Museum in 1995 and began arranging hundreds of items into descriptive displays. One section of the museum includes storefronts filled with authentic tools and objects from early entrepreneurs. Several presentations feature objects from Louis Neitzel’s hardware business, Gottlieb Bauer’s grocery store and Arthur Rikli’s furniture store.
The museum created another area containing many religious memorabilia from local churches. Area residents donated items from Immanuel Lutheran, Trinity Lutheran, Ebenezer Evangelical, Callahan Evangelical and Emmanuel Evangelical congregations. The collection includes church pews, a stained-glass window and historical manuscripts.
Another segment of the downtown museum takes visitors on a tour of Murdock educational highlights. Scores of photographs chronicle more than a century of classroom memories. These include class pictures, team photographs and a case full of trophies and medals.
Vanderford said Murdock Historical Society members were grateful to local residents for having the foresight to save their family’s objects instead of giving or throwing them away.
“We are fortunate to have had ancestors who went through circumstances which put them into the habit of keeping almost everything,” Vanderford said. “We are also fortunate that some of their descendants saw the value of preserving those items in a museum, instead of selling at an auction to the highest bidder.”
The organization later expanded its historical reach beyond the museum. The group purchased the former Murdock Lions Club building in 2005 and renovated it into a one-room schoolhouse. The 1906 building had previously been the home of the Prairie Country School and served as the Murdock High School gymnasium until 1924.
The schoolhouse showcases what a typical classroom would have looked like in the 1890s. Hundreds of students from across the Midwest have traveled to Murdock for the historical experience over the past 13 years. Desks, chalkboards and books from the time period allow visitors to step back in time in the building.
The organization has also inspired many Elmwood-Murdock students to conduct historical studies throughout the years. Elmwood-Murdock Future Business Leaders of America students spearheaded several projects for the community’s 125th anniversary in 2015. Multiple Knights led a fund-raising effort for the creation of a historical mural at the Murdock Museum. Many others developed a website that features stories, interviews and photographs of local people and landmarks.
Vanderford said it is exciting to see younger generations share the appreciation of past moments and milestones. He said Murdock Historical Society members would like to pass down their love of history to many others for years to come.
“The best part for me is probably continually discovering something historically that I didn’t know about, and then exploring and investigating into it,” Vanderford said. “There’s so much fascinating stuff there in our history.”