History in the Making

Jena Mottola

Thirty years ago, Edmond history
buffs recognized a huge hole in the city’s cultural landscape—a museum
dedicated to its past.

A group of dedicated volunteers
partnered with the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust to fill the historic
National Guard Armory building on Boulevard with a collection of exhibits that
bring the city’s history to life. Alongside the exhibits, a robust research
library was developed, giving unparalleled access to information about the
city, from its founding in 1889 through the present day.

Children's AreaThe museum’s mission is simple
to understand but difficult to execute. “I want visitors to have a history
experience because when they experience something, they remember it. If they
just read it or see it, maybe it’ll stick. But if they touch it, feel it, smell
it and do it, they’ll remember it forever. It will find its way into a
visitor’s memory,” says the museum’s Executive Director, Jena Mottola.

The emphasis on the history
experience sets the museum apart. The museum’s interactive exhibits are
especially fun and effective for kids and Mottola and her staff love targeting
them with lesson after lesson about their hometown’s history. In that vein, the
museum is currently taking reservations now for its popular 1889 summer camps.
In the one-room Territorial Schoolhouse at the corner of 2nd and Boulevard,
kids enjoy the opportunity to travel back in time and learn about learning—the
way it was done 120 years ago. Campers dress, learn and play like their
historical predecessors. It is a fully immersive experience that makes learning
fun and engaging for Edmond’s youngest students.

Edmond's FounderVisitors can participate in
another example of the museum’s history experience when the “Legacy of
Gettysburg” exhibit opens June 20th. The 150th anniversary of the battle
inspired the exhibit, which will highlight the stories of Edmond soldiers and
pioneers that fought in the famous Civil War battle. The exhibit, provided
primarily by a local collector, brings the battle to life by telling stories in
the voices of Edmond’s first citizens and their families both during and after
the battle.

The museum also houses an
enormous library with answers to questions about everything Edmond. Who was the
mayor in 1958? Why is Kickingbird such a popular name for landmarks around the
city? (We’re not giving up the answers. If you want them, make a trip to the
museum and thumb through its records—all of which are available to the public.)

Mottola is especially proud of
the museum’s pioneer records. A research collection that is constantly
expanding, the pioneer records house information about the city’s founders and
its beginnings as a coal and watering stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
Railway in the 1890s. “We have a vast resource of pioneer files,” Mottola says.
“People can use our resource library and sit and dig to their heart’s content
for information about the city’s origins and the people that made it all
happen. The pioneer files are probably one of the biggest kept secrets of the museum.
We don’t want them to be a secret. We want people to use them,” she says.

Antique Gas StationMany cities the size of Edmond don’t think to
support museums dedicated to their own history. A permanent celebration of a
city’s history is rare. “Edmond is a city that’s very valued by its
citizens—that’s what makes it unique. Edmond’s residents tell us what’s
important…by coming through our doors. They tell us what’s important by how
they spend their money. And what they spend their money on is education. We’re
known for our schools…they are very important to the community. To me, that’s
just another extension of what we do. We educate,” says Mottola. The museum’s
singular approach is working. The biggest problem they face is growth beyond
its founders’ expectations, a happy problem that any museum is glad to wrestle
with!

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