Column: A Pioneer Village historyWORTHINGTON — In September 1933, an organization was created in Worthington and named the Nobles County Historical Society. It was founded by a group called the “Old Settlers,” but that name didn’t seem to fit with their objectives.
By: Al Swanson, Daily Globe Historical Columnist, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — In September 1933, an organization was created in Worthington and named the Nobles County Historical Society. It was founded by a group called the “Old Settlers,” but that name didn’t seem to fit with their objectives.
They wanted to keep track of the past but also to record the present and the future. Goals and objectives was their theme, but this new group was collecting artifacts of the past and present.
After about three decades, it was recognized that there was no place for what had been collected.
One of the first suggestions was in the town square, where the courthouse and the county jail were located. That suggestion was discussed at a Historical Society meeting as early as 1964. However, the discussion was just that and nothing was done to follow that idea.
It may have been that the building for the library may have solved part of the problem. Members of the Historical Society were active in having a building for the library and that a museum might become part of the project.
What resulted from these interests was a building that replaced the Carnegie Library and a place for the Historical Society. That became the War Memorial Building, which housed the County Library upstairs, the Historical Society downstairs and the entire structure dedicated to remembering those who served our country in the wars.
The Historical Society contributed monies so a place could be used for a museum and a Society office on the lower level. It was later that the Art Center was established in the building.
When the Historical Society began to look for some place for collections, it was discussed that the place be in one of the city or county parks. That idea didn’t receive much support, and other suggestions were discussed.
One of the factors that stimulated the talk about a “Prairie Village” was that the Gillomen School was moved to the Fair Grounds in 1957. It was open during the county fair. Serious consideration of a place for the schoolhouse occupied meetings up until 1968, when the lease agreement between the Fair Association and the Historical Society was signed.
For a number of meetings of the Society, there was discussion on creating a “Prairie Village”. That idea became a part of the minutes from 1965 up to 1968.
At this time, the highway that became Interstate 90 was being constructed through Worthington. That construction required the Fair Association to change some of its grounds to accommodate the new road. At that time — and because of the change in the Fair Grounds — it seemed possible to create a place for the Historical Society and its collections. (The schoolhouse was moved from the Fair Grounds to Pioneer Village in 1969.)
A ‘Village’ emerges
Five acres were purchased from the Fair Board, and plans were made just west of the Fairgrounds.
For a time, it was referred to as Prairie Village. A fence was built to set the boundaries of the 5.2- acre village. Security lights were placed around the area.
A contest took place to get an appropriate name. The name of the village was to be Pioneer Village to honor those individuals who had settled here. There were many suggestions, and now there are more than 40 buildings in the enclosed area.
One of the first areas that came into existence was the railroad. A depot had been acquired off the Reading line at Wirock, eight miles west of Fulda. Ties and track were set down in front of the depot. A grain elevator was brought into the Village, and the railroad line started from there. A boxcar and caboose were also brought, completing an area that tells so much about part of the history of our area.
Grain was grown, stored in the elevator and shipped out by railroad when it was sold. The caboose on the tracks represents the past, as they are no longer in existence on the railroad lines.
In the early plans of the village, it was to be built around a square with the buildings facing the square. This was traditional in many communities in the history of our country.
The railroad changed the plans. The depot was set at the head of “Main Street,” the grain elevator at the west and the caboose and boxcar on the tracks. Then, a street was set to the south at the main admissions gate. Buildings were set on either side of the street with board sidewalks on both sides of Main Street.
Each building facing that street tells of businesses and occupations of any developing community. Two churches were brought in on Main Street, showing the place of religion as people settled into towns of our growing nation.
Forty years later
Now, in 2009, Pioneer Village has become a part of the Worthington community in Nobles County. It is open to the general public from Memorial Day in May to Labor Day in September. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday, when hours are noon to 5 p.m. RSVP volunteers greet and sign in visitors, and hand out self-guided maps and information about Pioneer Village.
May is the last month of the school season, and many schools use Pioneer Village as their end-of-the-year activity.
The school building is the children’s center of our village. It, too, has an interesting history. Built as a rural school a few miles north of Brewster, it was called the Gillomen School and, when it closed, it was brought to Pioneer Village. Area schools have made the visit a part of their curriculum — the highlight at the end of the school year. “No more teachers, no more books” — at least until Labor Day.
A number of columns in the Reminiscing feature have dealt with Pioneer Village. Although the village has been in existence only 40 years, it represents history of this area.