Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Say hi to Wes Anderson...

Posted 7/10/18 (Tue)

Most communities, or at least counties, have some form of preservation of history. Some are bigger than others and are usually based on the historic population of said county.

But there is one place in downtown Valley City that displays an  incredible amount of memorabilia going back to the turn of the last century.

Wes Anderson is the curator at the Barnes County Historical Society that sits at 315 Central Avenue in downtown Valley City.

When he took his job about 20 years ago, he was one of those people who couldn’t believe he was working in a place he actually liked.

But friends and neighbors could tell early on that Wes had a passion for history and if you step into that museum, you will see why.

He has taken it upon himself, sometimes with the help of others, to gather some of the most significant artifacts ever to be found in Barnes County.

So how does that work? Many people hang on to old heirlooms and historical gadgets, yet Wes Anderson has somehow obtained a lot of them and put them on display for the neighborhood to enjoy.

You can look at World War I memorabilia. Some of us are into old radios and we can see them as well as a scaled-down version of a timber-trestle railroad bridge that is still used just north of town that is known as the Hi-Liner Bridge.

Wes has managed to put a triceratops dinosaur on display, he has original railroad memorabilia and if you look hard enough, you might find a phonograph that plays records at 78 speed.

You can also find the oldest registered car in North Dakota, a 1901 Oldsmobile as well as the shoe of Christian Paetow, known as the largest man in Dakota Territory.

The theme, of course, is Barnes County, so a lot of the military displays reflect people who have fought and sometimes died who lived their lives in and around Valley City.

Founded in 1930 on the third floor of the Barnes County Courthouse, the museum, in an 18,000 square foot former department store, boasts of occasions with music and others with lecture series, something that you don’t often see in communities without a major university, although Valley City State University will beg to differ about the quality of education at a smaller institution.

Some of those students have actually worked with Wes and have done short internships here and there to help build this impressive museum.

The Barnes County Historical Society has also caught the attention of North Dakota Tourism.

It is featured on the North Dakota Historical Society website and lists the hours of operation; open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m., 4 p.m.

There’s a gift shop in the museum and although this space isn’t used for promoting a business, this gift shop you have to see because you can purchase items there you won’t find anyplace else.

It is also apparent the Chamber of Commerce is happy to have a place like the Barnes County Historical Society among its members because if they weren’t happy, the museum, nor it’s impressive displays would not have been showcased for 20 years.

The place is clean, it’s easy to navigate and if you want to check it out and have any interest in history, you better be prepared to spend some time there because you will need it.

The Army has a saying that states you’ll get out of it what you put into it. In this case, Wes Anderson is certainly getting out of what he has put into it the past couple of decades and so are the patrons.

Just to give you an idea of what this curator is like, he’s not some stuffy, old professor-type who once took a class on the Civil War.

No, not Wes Anderson. He is a happy-go-lucky individual who hasn’t aged a bit in all the years he’s worked in that museum. He’s still young, full of energy and often plays the part by dressing up in period costumes to provide a better portrayal of living history to the patrons who visit the museum.

School teachers, law enforcement, farmers, merchants, children, historical staff from elsewhere, newspaper editors and yes, some of those stuffy, old professor types, have given raving reviews of the Barnes County Historical Society over the years.

And honestly, it wouldn’t be possible without Wes Anderson. There would most likely be a historical museum in Valley City simply because of population. But that’s it. It would be simple and mundane.

Wes Anderson has brought history to life and he is to be commended for his work.