BENSON — The Benson Historical Museum will have a presence on Fourth Street through a building lease that will give the museum more exposure.
For the past few years, Museum Director Judy Lee has been trying to find ways to increase the museum’s visibility.
“Our museum is steeped in history and has so much to offer, but when visitors drive through Benson they don’t even know we’re here because of our location on a side street,” Lee said. “The museum board of directors has been interested in acquiring a Fourth Street presence for over a year. So, when this opportunity arose, with this building directly across the street from the Visitor Center, the board considered it ideal,” she said. “So this our opportunity to have the Fourth Street presence that we all wanted.”
The 2,200 square foot building is large enough to hold displays now housed in two separate buildings on the museum property.
By consolidating the displays into one building, Lee said it will save the museum money through utility bills and general upkeep. In addition, future plans are to lease the two vacated buildings, thereby creating a revenue stream for the museum.
The newly acquired building located at 256 E. Fourth St. is a block north of the main museum property, on the corner of Fifth and San Pedro streets.
“Once we’re open at the Fourth Street location, we will be selling tickets for a two-part tour that will begin at the new building and continue to the main museum,” Lee said. “I’m so excited about the potential that this new opportunity creates for our museum because it increases space for more exhibits. It also increases the potential for more visitors.”
The Visitor Center and neighboring Zearing’s mercantile provides visitors with something interesting and fun to do in Benson, Lee said.
As she prepares for a Sept. 17 soft opening, it has been a massive endeavour to relocate six exhibits from the two former buildings to the new site.
“Our new digs are actually quite old, as this building was once the Mansion Hotel, from the turn of the century,” Lee said.
On Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day Monday, the museum staff and work crew got a helping hand from five teenage boys who volunteered their time and muscle to assist with the move.
“These young men are amazing to work with,” said Lee. “Even though they were working hard, they had fun and were absorbing some of the history like sponges.”
On Monday, Benson High School junior Eugene Simmons — along with St. David High School graduate Jace Tyra-Barker, St. David High School freshman Camdyn Barker, Benson High School freshman Gabriel Santiago, and Pomerene middle schooler Carter Barker-Mullener — teamed up to help Lee move the exhibits.
“I don’t mind helping with this move because all of us are close friends, and some of us are cousins,” Simmons said. “I think it’s very important for young generations to get a taste of what this area was like for former generations who lived here,” he said.
“I really like the World War I and World War II displays. And I think it’s interesting that at one time, women wore black when they got married. Queen Victoria changed that at the turn of the century, when she wore a white wedding dress,” he said.
Santiago, who is 14, said he learned a lot by helping with the move.
“I’m learning all about the area’s history, and all of us like working together,” he said. “We’re like a family, so this is fun.”
History has always been Tyra-Barker’s favorite subject in school, so when he received a call from his “Aunt Judy” (Lee) asking for help with the move, he was immediately on board with the idea.
“Every single piece of furniture, mannequin and book comes with an interesting story and Aunt Judy knows all of them,” he said. “It’s interesting to learn about this area through her stories.”
When first entering the building, visitors are greeted with a display of mannequins modeling a century of wedding dresses, extending from the 1870s through the 1970s.
A bedroom right out of the historic Hotel Arnold is featured, along with a formal dining room, complete with an elegant chandelier. A turn-of-the-century nursery with a collection of dolls represents another display. Mannequins dressed in formal wear and military attire fill the once-empty building with a wide-range of displays that take visitors back in time.
“I’m glad that the museum’s displays are going to be closer to Fourth Street where people can see some of the historical stuff,” said 13-year-old Carter Barker-Mullener, one of the young helpers. “All of this is really historical and it tells a lot about Benson’s history. I feel like I know a lot more about Benson now that I’ve helped Aunt Judy with this move.”
When Lee holds the soft opening on Sept. 17, she hopes to share Benson’s intriguing history with all who attend.
“You never know what one will discover when visiting the Benson Historical Museum,” Lee said.