Archive for Thursday, February 24, 2005

History of museum chronicled as it reopens

February 24, 2005

The Lansing Historical Museum reopens from its winter hiatus Saturday, making this year the museum's seventh.

The museum is staffed by Historical Society members, all volunteers. It has been 16 years since the society was formed.

Like many stories, the beginning of the Lansing Historical Society centers on a young man with a passion.

For years, Lansing resident Kurtis Ritchey had been captivated by the old depot north of Lansing Lumber. A deep affection for the architecture had prompted Ritchey as a high school student to take painting lessons from local artist and historian Gene Young so he could paint the depot.

The structure hadn't been operated by the railroad company since the 1960s. In the years following it was used to store fertilizer, and its condition deteriorated. Still, it charmed Ritchey, and in 1989 he began in earnest to look for ways to preserve it.

In July of that year he called a meeting for people interested in Lansing history and preservation. When Kansas Highway 7 was built, most of the older buildings that lined the former Main Street were knocked down. Ritchey didn't want to see the depot meet the same fate, and he also wanted to find other people interested in preserving the city's history. About 20 people shared his concern enough to attend the first meeting.

It was at that first meeting, said Historical Society Secretary Verlin Tompkins, the society was formed and its first officers appointed. Ritchey was president for two years.

Once the society had formed, the group dug into its first major project: saving the depot.

"We got the company (using the depot) to sell it to us for a dollar," Tompkins said. "They did that because they weren't making much use of it."

Tompkins said after that it was a matter of raising enough money and moving the depot from its Main Street home to land the society had leased from the prison at 115 E. Kansas Ave., just east of the fire station.

The city donated $10,000 to help the society move the depot. Michael Young, son of Current columnist Gene Young, made a large oil painting depicting Lansing Main Street before K-7; the painting was called "Lansing Remembered" and sold for $5,000 at an auction fund-raiser for the depot.

Through large and small donations and fund-raising efforts, the society had enough money to move the depot in the spring of 1992.

Once moved, the society's work on the depot was far from done. The building had been neglected for years and was in desperate need of restoration.

"The entire west end had been removed and sliding doors had been put in to get the fertilizer trucks in and out," Tompkins recalled. "The floor had about 3 to 4 inches of fertilizer on it, and the windows were pretty much all gone. The chimney was gone; it had a metal roof. It was in really bad shape."

Society members and their families built a basement 10 feet deep and a platform for the depot to rest on. Hallmark Cards donated $25,000, and more money came from individual donors, businesses and fund-raisers. The Lansing Correctional Facility loaned out inmates for manual labor.

"A crew of eight to 10 inmates would work there in the evenings putting in new stairs to the basement, a lot of basic work," Tompkins said. The depot needed insulation, a wooden roof, forced air furnace and air conditioning, a bathroom, plumbing, an alarm system, new windows, restoration of the chimney and a rearrangement of the freight room.

Aside from the practical needs, the depot received a period-authentic style. Because part of the group's mission was preserving the past, they wanted the details of the depot's revival to be as accurate as possible.

The outside was painted with paint formulated like the original, information the society received from Santa Fe Railroads, the company that had owned the depot in its life as a functioning part of a railroad line.

Authentic signage also was a priority; Tompkins said the Railway Express sign outside the depot was $350. They also had a section of track laid in front of the depot.

The depot became the Lansing Historical Museum and home of the historical society's collection of relics and photographs from Lansing's past. It opened in the spring of 1999, 10 years after Ritchey had brought those Lansing residents interested in the city's history together.

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