Aug 19, 2022

🎙 Ellis County Historical Society plans satellite museum in Victoria

Posted Aug 19, 2022 5:00 PM

Hays Post

VICTORIA — As efforts to find new uses for the former St. John’s Rest Home building continue, one of the ideas generated during initial conversations will soon come to pass.

During the annual Herzogfest last week, the Ellis County Historical Society announced they plan to open a satellite museum in the building, providing the organization with much-needed storage space and a location to share Ellis County history with more area residents and travelers than ever before.

The idea of using the location to house a museum was introduced by Mary Kay Schippers, Ellis County Historical Society Museum Space Committee chair and trustee, during a meeting last September shortly after Jeff Pfeifer purchased the building during a meeting discussing the future of the facility.

“The location is absolutely perfect,” Schippers said. “It's right down the street from the Basilica, which gets thousands of visitors every year. And we're hoping to tie into that.”

Along with the benefits to the society, she said the community would benefit from increased traffic, bringing outside dollars into Victoria.

“The longer you can keep a tourist in town, the more money they're going to spend,” Schippers said. “I said this last September that the difference between a community that survives and a community that thrives is that the community that thrives is bringing in outside dollars.”

The move comes as the society works to sort and centralize the museum’s collection and share that collection with the public at their main campus at Seventh and Main in Hays.

“We're going to be moving all of our exhibits that deal with the community outside of Hays,” Schippers said. “We're going to be moving those to the Victoria site, and that way, at the Hays site, we will be able to focus more on the Hays history.”

The Wild West history of Hays could focus on the main site, while the Volga-German heritage that permeates the county could be a highlight of the new location, she said.

“We want to make both of them fantastic,” Schippers said.

Using the rest home building to showcase Ellis County history can help honor the history of the building as well, she said, as it remained an integral part of life in Victoria and Ellis County for decades.

“When we approached the Ellis County Historical Society board about this idea, one of the board members commented, he said, ‘I remember pushing my grandma in a wheelchair down that hallway,’ ” she said.

“And I think that's the thing. That building is just filled with memories. I have my own memories of grandparents in that facility. And so no one wanted to see it demolished.”

While the society’s plan will use a portion of the space, she said other efforts continue to bring senior housing, recreation facilities and more into the facility.

“When that building was built, it was to facilitate and to help the community stay connected,” said Ellis County Historical Society executive director Amanda Rupp. “And the people that were first involved in that still have a lot of connection to the community."

By finding new uses for the building their legacy can carry on, she said.

And Rupp hopes that desire will translate to volunteers as the museum works to move into the location.

As the larger plans come together for the satellite museum, area residents will see work begin soon.

“We're going to start on the second floor, which was another reason why the historical society loved this site. We are really having a space crunch here in Hays for artifacts,” Schippers said. “The second floor of that building is going to strictly be used for historical society artifacts. And so the renovation of that part of it is going to begin here in September.”

Demolition in the 2,700 square-foot upstairs area is set to begin September 19.

Part of that renovation includes securing the roof. During years of non-use, it has deteriorated, allowing water to damage portions of the building.

Rupp said that roofing above the area set to be used by the society soon could be repaired separately from the rest of the 40,000-square-foot building.

“The Victoria Community Coalition is going to raise funds to try and help the entire roof area for the other part of the projects, but our specific project is on that second story. Because it's its own roof structure, we can start with that almost right away.”

Along with the benefit the location will bring to Victoria, Rupp said the second location would be a benefit to the society’s ongoing need for space to house the museum’s collection.

“We have now pulled everything that was out in various storage units outside of our campus back to our campus last year, and we have started sorting through those things, putting like things together,” Rupp said.

“And so right now we are shuffling, we need to work on one space,” she continued. “We're shuffling it over here, and then we move it back because we need to work on that area. But there has been a lot moved already, and those two rooms in the basement are going to be empty pretty soon because we are now focusing on bringing our staff back to that red brick building by the end of the year.”

To accommodate the staff’s return, she said remodeling work would soon begin in that area.

Following the weekend announcement, Schippers presented to the Victoria City Council at their regular meeting, asking to waive the permit fee for the upcoming work.

“We plan to be a very, very vibrant, visible part of this community,” Schippers told the council.

She also noted the benefit of bringing workers to the city for the work as they utilize stores and restaurants in Victoria.

“They will be bringing some revenue to the community right at the very beginning, Schippers said.

And future developments will also have a further positive economic impact, with the opening of a gift shop and the ability to host large gatherings as part of the society’s mission, she said.

With the fee expected to be under $200 Schippers said it would only be a minor impact to the city’s revenue but would signal the city’s support for the project.

The measure passed unanimously.

Former St. John Rest Home
Former St. John Rest Home