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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Faces & Places: Koshkonong Historical Society

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Koshkonong Historical Museum
History is an important part of everyone's learning. It teaches people about the past and shows them how things used to be and how people reacted to certain events in history. Local history is especially important because over the years it can be easily lost to the sands of time. Those involved with the Koshkonong Historical Society Museum are trying to prevent that from happening by preserving all they know about the old families that lived in Koshkonong years ago and everything that used to be in a town that used to be bustling with activity and now stands quiet except for the regular Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains that pass by with their roaring whistle.

The Kosh Historical Society began in 1983 with several people who began to realize that Kosh's history was just as important as national history because it told them how Koshkonong was founded and what the plights where of those who settled the land. Mary Lee Pease one of the volunteers with the Historical Society said the Koshkonong Historical Society has two main functions -- Koshkonong Heritage Day and preserving the museum.

The first Heritage Day was in 1986 with the town's centennial. On that day, the people of Kosh recognized those who played an important part in the community for decades as "Citizens of the Century." Pease said this year's Heritage Day was the last that the Kosh Historical Society sponsored. Now, that duty of getting locals active in preserving the past and having fun with it falls onthe local 4H Club.

Photo by Emily McIntosh Mary Lee Pease is one of the few Koshkonong Historical Society members who sees to the upkeep of the Koshkonong Museum. Donations to the Historical Society is what keeps the museum up and running.
The Koshkonong Museum is in the old Koshkonong Christian Church built in 1909. The church celebrated its 100th Anniversary this year. Although it was not the first church built in Kosh (the first church was built in 1903), it is one that has withstood the tests of time. How much longer it will continue to stand is anybody's guess. Pease said she and others with the Historical Society are worried about the stability of the foundation and the roof. Pease said the nuts-and-bolts of the Historical Society, though once many active members donated their time to it, now comes down to about three people -- herself, Dorothy Ellis and Pauline Merky. The preservation of the museum is done strictly through donations. "There are donations made through the efforts of many people, and so many across the country (donate to their home town)," Pease said.

Pease's family (her husband's side) has been in Kosh for a long time as well as other families. "Many families have been here for over 100 years," Pease said. Pease also does genealogical research for those looking for lost family history. She said she has learned some pretty interesting things by looking through old photos and newspapers and could tell a lot of stories. Much of the town's information can be found in Kosh's history book, titled Koshkonong: The History-The Heritage 1840-1987. The book is full of historical information about the town and many pictures of those who lived through Kosh's history. It can be purchased at the Koshkonong Museum for $20.

The Kosh Museum houses many historical items including antique post office boxes, medical kits, a barber's chair and a spinning wheel that was in use for a long time before it was put in the museum. Pease said she enjoys it when teachers at the Koshkonong School District bring their students to see what is in the museum and go on a little tour. She said the students' thank you cards afterwards are always a pleasure to read.

According to the information compiled in the history book, a man named Hardy Shurron built the first homestead in Koshkonong in 1880. About two years later, a construction engineer for the Kansas City-Fort Scott-Memphis railroad line named Sereno Standley decided to settle in the area and purchased his homestead for a ham, a side of bacon and $10 in cash.

It was R.R. Hammond, the first district supervisor for the railroad, who supposedly gave Koshkonong its name because it reminded him of Koshkonong Lake in Wisconsin where he enjoyed duck hunting. Pease said back then, before the railroad came through, Koshkonong had seven lakes. "They had to drain them so the railroad could come through," Pease said.

Kosh's first school was built in 1892, since then the town has had to rebuild its school several times due to fires.

The town soon became bigger due to people coming on and off the railroad. In 1896, Kosh's first hotel was built by Joe Perrin. The hotel had from 12 to 14 rooms.

When Koshkonong has its peach orchards, it was an age of prosperity and wealth for the town. Pease called it Kosh's "Golden Age." The orchards were planted in 1897 and by 1901 the town had a bumper crop and extra harvesters had to be brought in to pick the fruit and pile them into the railroad carts. At the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 Koshkonong's peaches took first place.

Pease said at one time, Koshkonong had as many as 45 businesses. Kosh also had several mills and iron mines. It even had a theater called The Palace Picture Show, which closed in 1913.

Back when Koshkonong still had a bank, one of the town's residents, Andy Boles, did an interview for the Kosh history book. "I was born Friday the thirteenth, November, 1908," Boles said. "That was the night of the first bank robbery in town. My mother told me I came in with a bang because the robbers tried (to blow the vault) with dynamite."

When the state capitol burned down after being struck by lightening in 1911, there was talk of moving the capitol. Colonel Jay Lynn Torrey, a very patriotic man who fell in love with the Ozarks, created plans for a town near West Plains he named "Torreytown" as a prospective place to relocate the state capitol. In a brochure that the West Plains Commercial Club published in support of the idea they described Koshkonong as, "A town of 700 inhabitants, one bank, a large variety of stores, lumber yard and grist mill." Of course Col. Torrey's plans did not come to fruition, but it is interesting to note just how close Koshkonong was to becoming a suburb to a state capitol.

But things soon changed for the boomtown. Insects infested the peach crop in the late 1940s and the peach industry collapsed. The history book says, "This spelled a change in the life of Kosh, as its people and its industry began to slip away."

Everything seemed to slow down after the peach industry went down and now Kosh is the quiet little town drivers pass by on their way to West Plains and to bigger cities.

More information about Koshkonong can be found in Koshkonong: The History-The Heritage 1840-1987 or from any Koshkonong Historical Society member. The museum is open Memorial Day through Labor Day and by appointment and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is just across from the Kosh High School in the old Koshkonong Christian Church. Pease said those willing to volunteer are also welcome.

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