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Wichita Museum: Excellence in Local History


I have visited many local museums, everything from handwritten placards to over-the-top exhibits. Before I start my narrative here, let me tell you The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is one of the finest of my recollection.

Its location in the historic 1890 City Building is the first plus this museum offers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a local historic landmark in 1975, the building went through a $1.3 million renovation as soon as city offices moved to new quarters in November 1975.

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Upon completing this work in the fall of 1978, the museum began finishing the interior and constructing exhibits, offices, and storage areas. Over $500,000 in private donations for this project phase was collected. The museum opened on May 3, 1981.

The museum collection evolved from a core of early memorabilia to over 80,000 Wichita and Sedgwick County artifacts from 1865. "From photographs to fashions, business records to furniture, these items help to tell the story of the people and events that have shaped our place in time today," the website says.

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I started my exploration on the fourth floor. The core exhibit, "Spirit of Wichita," examines 1912 to 1939. This period saw significant change through new technologies, including electricity, the automobile, and aviation. This exhibit also explores the oil industry, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War I, and the period's cultural arts, entertainment, and technology.

The "Spirit of Wichita" concludes with the Wichita-built "Jones Six" automobile exhibit. Of the thousands built, this is the only example of the automobile on public display. A recreated garage setting features a 1916 Jones Six automobile. John J. Jones was a Ford dealer who thought he could build a better car than Henry Ford. He produced 3,000 cars and trucks in Wichita.

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The third floor turned out to be my favorite.

"Wichita – The Magic City" is a chronological trip through the city's first 50 years from settlement to the dawn of the air age. The displays feature early inhabitants, the Wichita Indian tribe whose name the town adopted, the hunters and traders who settled along the river's banks, and the cowboys who drove their cattle through town.

"A Wichita Cottage" authentically recreates a typical middle-class Wichita home of the late 19th century, complete with Victorian adornment and the emerging technology that would soon change domestic life and society. There are seven rooms.
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"Civics and Government Exhibit" features the 1890s office of the Mayor of Wichita. Using a 1917 photograph of the mayor's office in City Hall as a development guide, The Mayor's Office is an excellent companion to the adjoining Civics and Government Exhibit.

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On the second floor, "A Child's World" features a child’s toys and experiences of previous generations.

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A local drug store with a soda fountain is next, and "Affordable Elegance – Victorian Silver Plate" is a nationally recognized collection of elaborate silver plated service ware prized by America's emerging middle class of the late 19th century.

Back on the first floor are two small exhibits. "The Hall Collection of Cut & Engraved Glass" is a collection for anyone who admires the spectacular artistry of these functional objects.

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"Windows on Collections" frequently changes its artifacts from the museum's growing collection. Depending upon any theme, this exhibit ranges from the topical to the bizarre.

After chatting with the friendly volunteer at the front desk about what I had seen and enjoyed, I checked out the excellent museum gift shop.

As I mentioned, this is an excellent museum whether you grew up in Wichita or are just passing through. It should be high on your must-see list

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The museum is at 204 S. Main St, Wichita; call (316) 265-9314 or click here. An excellent hotel located centrally in the city is the Fairfield Inn & Suites Wichita Downtown, 525 South Main Street, Wichita. For more information, click here.

For information on all the other attractions, hotels, restaurants, and shopping opportunities, go to Visit Wichita by clicking here.


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