Nov 04, 2021 11:01 AM

🎙GUNS AND CAKE: Ellis Co. Historical Society celebrates 50 years

Posted Nov 04, 2021 11:01 AM

By JAMES BELL
Hays Post

As the Ellis County Historical Society continues to reinvigorate facilities and programming, the organization is set to host a 50th anniversary celebration Saturday, with historical re-enactments, presentations and more. 

"We've got (a lot) planned down there at the historical society," said curator Adam Conkey. "We're opening up our stone church. We're gonna have all of our outbuildings open."

But more than just an opportunity to explore buildings on the society's grounds, he said attendees would also experience history first-hand with gunfight reenactments and historical presentations.

"We'll have gunfights every two hours, 10 o'clock, noon, two o'clock, and four to close it out," Conkey said.

Throughout the day, a variety of speakers will discuss local history.

"We're going to have speakers on historical events, including Kansas history, Indian wars and Kansas forts," he said, including a representation of one of Ellis County's most famous residents George Sternberg and sessions about the Bissing Family.

"And we'll have Bukovina German immigrants, we'll have a discussion on that. Of course, we'll have Q and A after all of those as well."

He said the headline event would be James Drees talking about Jim Curry and vigilante violence.

"So if anybody wants to hear some real story about those gunfights, he's there to provide that," Conkey said.

Wrapping up the evening is a celebration from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at the Hays Community Theatre building, 121 E 8th.

"We're having a dance party, come in costume if you want, any, any timeframe," Conkey said. " It's the Historical Society, so you come from the 1980s if you wanted to. It's more of a celebration. We'll have cake there, and we also have a raffle for our Henry repeater rifle there as well."

All of the day's events are come and go and free to the public.

While the activities are a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the society, Conkey said it would also help kick off a new era, as work is ongoing to strengthen the society's connection to the community.

"We just want to remind everybody we exist," Conkey said. "It's been a difficult, rough, kind of few years. We haven't had our museum open for three years now, I believe, other than special events, and we're aiming to push forward and try to get our museum back on track.

"This 50th is our restart, if you will, for the museum," he said.

Most notably the society has struggled to open to the public as their main building, the Presbyterian church on the corner of 7th and Main has been closed due to water damage and then COVID and now will require significant investment before it can be reopened to the public.

"It's coming together. It's a process," Conkey said. "We are course writing a lot of grants to try to get things working again. And of course, we need a lot of community help as well."

He said in the last few months, many have stepped up from the community to help the society regroup.

"Even from high schools, high school age people are just as interested in this as the older people in the community," Conkey said. "So it's just more, more than I thought would happen in the last few months."

But he said more volunteers are welcome as work and planning continues.

"We want to get our main gallery situated, at least put back together," Conkey said. "That's a tough process. We've got plaster kind of crumbling into dust in there. So we're trying to get our walls repaired, getting our archives put back all together in the basement and everything. It's just going to be a process, that's going to take time."

He said while work in the main building continues, the stone church will serve as the main exhibit.

"As far as our grand design, there's still always going to be that need for a building," Conkey said. "We have that whole block on the north side of Seventh and Main. So we have a lot of room to expand. That's another exciting feature. Once we get the funding to do that."

"But there's a lot of plans in the works. They've had plans since the 70s to go forth with a reconstruction of old Front Street, kind of make it like a Dodge City type of deal. Our gunfighters are excited to be a part of this too. And all of it's just really going to grow from here."

Along with revitalizing their facilities, he said future events would also help solidify the society as a valuable part of the community.

For more information or to volunteer for the society's efforts, email [email protected] or call 785-628-2624.

"We're happy to find places for everyone," Conkey said.