I remember the first day I walked into the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum. It was March 13, 2018. By this time the museum had already been operating for over 30 years but I wasn't around during that time. I grew up in the Twin Mound farm community just a few miles outside of Richland. But while Richland and other Wakarusa River Valley communities met their fate from the construction of Clinton Dam and Reservoir, I was away at college and then I married and lived elsewhere.
I REMEMBER THAT.
While growing up, I always heard talk that someday a dam would be built to prevent the occasional floods caused from swelling Wakarusa River banks in rainy seasons. I just didn't pay much heed to it. As young kids, we kind of looked forward to the Richland floods. The family would pile into Dad's pickup and he drove us to the edge of town. We would survey how deep and how far the water was out of its banks. Dad would comment on what it might mean to the crops in the low areas and we (the kids) would wade and play in the muddy waters.
Building the dam was just something to talk about. Surely it wouldn't happen in my lifetime. But, then it did. On occasional visits home, my Mother talked about Martha Parker, about attending meetings, sharing updates and ultimately Martha's passion to save and preserve local history as generational farms were purchased by the government then demolished.
I REMEMBER WHEN.
Nothing could prepare me for how I felt emotionally when I drove through Richland for the last time. This little town had been an economic and social hub for rural families in the Wakarusa Valley. Now vacant buildings sat boarded up. There were no vehicles, no people, no dogs. Just a shell of a ghost town. Then almost as quickly, it became nothing; nothing at all. Bulldozers took out the remains and it was as if the town never existed.
As fate happens, life brought me back "home" a few years ago. And soon, fate brought me to the museum. I was energized to ensure history, especially my community's history, is saved and shared. What surprised me though, when I walked through the museum doors for the first time, was how much local history was already packed into such a small space. The museum is a well-kept gem on the banks of Clinton Lake but the walls are bursting to tell more stories.
Over the past two years, the museum's board has worked on meeting, interviewing and gathering more local memories from those who felt the impact of Clinton Dam the most. As time marches on way too fast, the window to capture first person recollections has narrowed. And those interviews have uncovered many more photos and artifacts that brought us to the realization that we must grow the museum's physical space to do justice to the memories.
I REMEMBER WHY.
That is why a building expansion capital project is being launched. I'm honored to be a part of a museum board that has the vision to "honor our past and build our future." In the mean time, we are clearing the main exhibit hall of other displays to make way for one of the largest community exhibits the museum has ever tackled. When we open the "Remember Richland" feature exhibit this summer, visitors will be able to step back in time. First, to the earliest days when Richland was established and then to the town that it became over the years through the 1960s.
I look forward to remembering it with you.