History of the Harrison County Historical Village
The Harrison County Historical Village beginnings can be traced to 1920 when Preston A. Niles came to Harrison County to purchase the old Duer Orchard. From 1921 to 1937, Preston worked the land and began his collection of western Iowa artifacts.
In 1937, Preston arranged for an original log cabin built in 1953 by Presley Craig, and located along the Skunk River in Story County to be moved and rebuilt along Highway 30 adjacent to his apple orchard. A year later it was opened as a museum, displaying three showcases of artifacts, a rope bed and an ancient cultivator used to break the prairie sod.
As years past, more buildings were built, or in the case of school, moved to the facility and hundreds of artifacts were collected, purchased and traded. Unique to the village are paintings by Mr. Niles displayed with almost every collection. Painted in the primitive style of Grandma Moses, they show how the artifacts were used. For 30 years, Preston operated his Niles Museum.
Due to the failing health of his wife, Preston was forced to sell his museum in 1969. The museum was purchased by the Harrison County Conservation Board and has been operated as a public museum since that time. The name was changed to the Harrison County Historical Village.
The need for additional museum display area became acute in the early 1980's. Plans were initiated to construct a new display building at the village in 1986.
In 1987, the Iowa Legislature appropriated two million dollars to the Iowa Department of Economic Development for the purpose of developing ten new welcome centers along interstates, major highways and in rural areas across the state. Promotion of Harrison County and the surrounding area had always been a priority with museum personnel so the Harrison County Conservation Board decided that the inclusion of an Iowa Welcome Center in the museum complex would be a "natural".
A total of 46 applicants applied for funding, and the Harrison County Conservation Board was awarded a $20,000 grant. The Harrison County Welcome Center was then added to the already progressing plans for expansion and construction at the museum. Construction began in June of 1988 and was completed in February of 1989. The museum/welcome center facility opened to the public on May 1, 1989.
The next major physical change to the facility occurred on Sunday, May 16, 1999, when the village/welcome center was struck by a tornado. All nine of the village's buildings suffered damage ranging from roofs, shingles and glass to total destruction. Permanent repairs to the facilities main building housing the Iowa Welcome Center were begun immediately. The Iowa Welcome Center remained open to the public but the village was closed.
Lengthy discussion was held by the Harrison County Conservation Board on the historical significance of the other buildings. It was decided to repair the general store where Mr. Niles first sold his cherry cider, the original one-room school, and the original log cabin. Five other buildings were determined to have no historical significance and were so severely damaged that they were removed.
Plans began immediately to replace the one larger display building at the south end of the facility. During the balance of 1999 and the first half of 2000, a new display building was built and permanent repairs were completed to all other buildings. The village was re-opened to the public on Memorial Day weekend in 2000, approximately one-year after the tornado.
A major land acquisition to the village/welcome center complex occurred in December of 2000. With the assistance of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, the Harrison County Conservation Board acquired 14 acres of land west of the village. The property had previously been identified in the Harrison County Conservation Board's comprehensive plan as being important to the long-term viability and preservation of the village/welcome center.
Currently the village/welcome center is in the process of building a Lincoln Highway/Loess Hills Interpretive Center that include the following components: creation of both a 5 to 7 Lincoln Highway and Loess Hills audio-visual media presentation; construction of a 30 seat Loess Hills Videoindoor A/V auditorium; development of an outdoor Lincoln Highway surface demonstration area with interpretation; development of a one-mile walking trail with interpretation through 14 acres of re-established Loess Hills prairie; construction of an elevated handicap-accessible observation deck; and development of an outdoor children's transportation play space. Plans are to have the new interpretive center completed in the fall of 2010.
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