Apr 29, 2024

🎙Bygone days of downtown Hays to be explored in Ellis County Historical Society app

Posted Apr 29, 2024 10:01 AM
Ellis County Historical Society Museum at 7th and Main, Hays. File photo by James Bell/Hays Post
Ellis County Historical Society Museum at 7th and Main, Hays. File photo by James Bell/Hays Post

Hays Post

Many local historical societies were formed around America's 1976 Bicentennial, but their popularity has waned.

Amanda Rupp, executive director of the Ellis County Historical Society, wants to ensure the organization's viability and relatability for years to come.

"I think there's a lot of reviving this kind of tourist attraction around the state," she told the Hays City Commission recently.

"I've talked with other museum professionals, and they're really impressed by how much Hays takes an interest in and supports [the community's] cultural events, the arts, the entertainment," Rupp said.  "It's nice to be a part of it."

The museum fell into disrepair a few years ago.

Under Executive Director Amanda Rupp's new leadership, rehab and renovations have been a priority. Projects are undertaken when the necessary capital is secured. 

Phase 1 involved mold remediation of the red brick former First Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1921. 

Phase 2 of renovating the museum at 100 W. Seventh is also completed.  The project cost $850,000 and included an ADA-compliant basement restroom, brick, stone and mortar repair, ramp entrances, new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and a new curator lab.

Phase 3, the final step in re-opening the building to the public, was unveiled in January. It will include updating the fire alarm system.

The main-level gallery space will be renovated this year at an estimated cost of $270,000.

"We've been talking with generous donors and grant foundations about that last little bit of money we need," Rupp said. "I know we can do it."

While work is underway, oversized artifacts in the main gallery will be transferred to the museum's sister site in Victoria at the former St. John Rest Home.

"I'd like to say that we'll be open to the public by this time next year," she told commissioners.

Rupp estimates the museum saved $25,000 in wages in 2023 thanks to the many hours worked by volunteers. 

"It's great to see the importance of our history, and more people are getting more involved and being proud of what it is," said Mason Ruder, commissioner and a Hays native. "Bringing it back to the glory."

Programming this summer will be available thanks to the Nex-Generation Round Up for Youth and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation/Fort Hays State University internship program. 

"We'll be able to be open seven days a week again this summer," Rupp said, "and still be free to visitors."

Another youth-enabled opportunity is an app designed by Thomas More Prep-Marian High School senior Henry Meitner.

"He helped us find an easy platform to design a walking tour of downtown Hays that correlates with the historic building plaques that are downtown," she said.

"You'll be able to see photographs related to the building, the history of the people that were there, and some other information, just not the one story that's on the plaque." 

An informational brochure about the new app is forthcoming.

"I'm very excited about the app," said Alaina Cunningham, commissioner. 

"It's great we're collaborating with someone local and of a younger generation."

Commissioner and executive director of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Reese Barrick, said, "The historical society also collaborated statewide." 

"They got grants from the Kansas Museum Association and have gotten awards. They're active in the whole museum profession statewide and have brought attention to us locally."