Purchase photos

Working toward a dream

1/18/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

NATOMA -- It's still a work in progress, but the Natoma Heritage Seekers Museum is a dream come true.

From its metal embossed ceiling to the pristine limestone walls, the museum in the former Pohlman building on Elm Street is the work of local history buffs.

The building, renovated mostly by volunteers, serves as the group's meeting place and houses a growing collection depicting the area's past and present.

The Heritage Seekers organized in 2001 with approximately 20 members interested in preserving the history of the area that includes Fairport, Paradise, Waldo, Alton, Woodston and Codell.

The group has "toured about everything we have around here -- trails, dugouts, old schools, oilfields ... ranches," said Betty (Zwefel) Pruter, Heritage Seekers president and Waldo native.

In the past, Natoma served as a commercial hub for those communities, said David Griffin, former president and Natoma native.

At one time, the town had a dress shop, doctor's office, pool hall, shoe repair shop, barber shop and lumber yard, all on one street, Pruter said.

"On Saturday night, there wasn't a parking place if you didn't get there by 5:30," she said.

Griffin said he wasn't sure exactly how it came about, but the late Bob Eickhoff was instrumental in the Pohlman family's donation of the building.

"(Eickhoff) said we'd like to have a place for a museum, and Hank (Pohlman) jumped on that. He was interested in Natoma's heritage," Griffin said.

The original single-story limestone building was built in 1900, and the second story of homemade concrete blocks was added in 1915.

A basement was dug out for the building by hand in 1938, with the dirt "pulled out by a team of horses with a slip," Griffin said.

A 20-foot addition also was put on the rear of the building.

Through the years, the building was used as a furniture store, and the Pohlman family used the space for their mortuary business. The second story was used for storage space and for displaying caskets, Pruter said.

The mortuary business was moved to Russell in 1976, "and they stopped using the building except for storage," Griffin said.

The keys and deed to building, which had fallen into disrepair, were turned over to the Heritage Seekers on Sept. 5, 2005.

"We were walking around wondering if we'd accepted a bad thing," Griffin said of the building's condition.

Led by Eickhoff, Griffin and Ed Breit, members got to work renovating the building. Breit, Hays, is a Fairport native and serves as the Heritage Seekers vice president.

"It was a team effort," Griffin said. "The whole group was in here. Without team effort, it would never have come about."

As they began to repair the building, a tug on the loose fabric wallpaper led to the discovery of the limestone walls.

"The paper came, but the plaster came with it," Griffin said.

The plaster adhered to the second floor concrete block walls, but Griffin thinks the freezing and thawing in the vacant building caused the plaster to become loose from the native rock walls.

"We removed all the plaster that we could ... dug mortar out between the rocks (limestone blocks) and replaced the mortar."

The pristine limestone walls add to the building's charm.

The metal embossed ceiling also needed restoring. It had to be scraped and brushed to remove the old finish.

Inmates at Stockton Correctional Facility did the preparation work, and the group hired a commercial painter to finish the ceiling.

The building has flooded at least twice, once in 1935 and again in 1993. Since the furnace was in the formerly flooded basement, it was inoperable. The building never had been outfitted with air conditioning.

To operate as a museum, both systems were necessary. So the group asked for bids. They came in at $7,500.

"We went on a money scouting binge," Griffin said.

With grants from area foundations and private donations, "in about a month's time, we had $7,500-plus," Griffin said.

Griffin and Breit helped lower the cost by installing some of the pipes themselves.

Griffin has learned carpentry and other renovation skills working with a group at his church building houses.

Being "raised on a farm, you learn those things," Breit said of his skills.

Most of the museum's artifacts are on loan.

Displays highlight objects used in everyday life such as the kitchen stove and sewing machine.

One display case is devoted to Natoma High School memorabilia, and another features photos of those who served in the military.

"A museum doesn't need to be all old stuff, but it needs to be informational," Griffin said.

The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays and by appointment. There is no charge.