“Striving to preserve our history, traditions; create opportunities and enhance our community.” These are the words used by the Elsberry Historical Society (EHS) to explain why they are so passionate about restoring things of old.
Founded in 2001 by a small group of Elsberry residents, the EHS has dedicated themselves to preserving the history, the homes, the items, even the stories of what Elsberry was built from.
“We are a group of community minded people with a love for saving our heritage,” said EHS member Harriet Mesker. “ The ones who grew up in this community and know what it once stood for are slowly dying and we need to preserve what we can now.”
Although their current project is the restoration of the Claude Robinson House, located at 106 North Second Street, they have been instrumental in preserving such things as the Marquee at the Senate Theater, placing historical markers in front of homes built from Elsberry’s younger years and much more. But with so much history and so many stories they were in need of a place that could hold them all, hence the restoration of the Robinson Home and future site of the Elsberry Museum.
“The house was originally located on Lincoln Street but we had it moved to its current location in 2005,” said EHS Secretary and Treasurer Barbara Cheatham. “Since that time we have completely redone the house by painting it, installing a new roof, installation, wallboards, refinished the floor in most of the rooms and just done what we can piece by piece based on the funds we have.”
Since the EHS is a non-for-profit organization and has been since May of 2003, they are limited on funds. In fact most of their annual funding comes from their annual dinner fundraiser, which is typically held in June.
One of the reasons they decided to use the Second Street location for the museum was because of the Calaboose Rock Jail located on the same property.
“Being as it is one of the oldest remaining Calaboose in the state, it seemed like a good idea to have a museum next to it,” said EHS President Douglas Mesker. “This way people can come view the beautiful items inside the home and view the Calaboose outside the home.”
One of the reasons Douglas Mesker said he likes doing these kinds of projects, other than his passion for Elsberry, is that it could potentially be a way for the city to use its roots as a method for outside appeal, to bring in new faces that love historical sites and markers.
Although the home will contain items from the early years of Elsberry, which is assumed to be from the late 1800s’ and even though the home itself belonged to Claude Robinson, grandson of Elsberry’s founding father Robert T. Elsberry, it will also hold items from other important locations throughout Elsberry, such as the train station.
“We’re not just preserving the home but the town,” said Harriet Mesker. “It’s important for us that the public knows where they came from, how Elsberry became what it is and what it once was.”
Going forward, Douglas Mesker said EHS might start looking into restoring parts of the main streets throughout the community as to provide a better “Drawing Card” for outsiders.
“Outside of wanting a larger membership, which we have a large amount of members, just not a large number of participating members, we would like to get the younger generations involved,” said Harriet Mesker. “Us elderly can’t do this forever, we just don’t have the energy and again it’s important for the younger generations of the community to know and learn about their communities history because there is a lot of it.”
So what is the purpose of the Elsberry Historical Society? According to the Meskers it is to provide the community with a central organization through which grants or other gifts can be obtained and used in accomplishing their mission of preserving the towns’ history. It is also to provide development guidance and as required general management of completed projects.
This is done with the objective of collectively working together, collectively to restore and re-establish Elsberry.
“The community is and always has been a wonderful place to conduct business, to enjoy life and to raise families,” said Harriet Mesker. “I know and faithfully believe that the success of this communities future could very well lie in its past. We need to preserve it. We need to understand where we came from and appreciate what it took to get where we are today, good or bad. There is a lot of history in Elsberry, a lot of stories. Unfortunately we are losing the ones old enough to tell it.”
Harriet Mesker said she hopes that with help from the Palmer Library, the school and the opening of the Elsberry Historical Museum younger generations will get involved and keep the history alive.