History Of 'The Hill' - Museum Exhibit Chronicles GRC History

Mills County Historical Museum Director Stephen Hunt looks over a daily log book from the late 1800s, one of the many artifacts included in a new display highlighting the history of the Glenwood Resource Center.

Mills County Historical Museum volunteer Suzanne Van Fleet reads one of the GRC storyboards.

Some of the Glenwood Resource Center artifacts displayed in the museum exhibit, including musical instruments.

One of the 11 GRC storyboards in the Mills County Historical Museum display.

Stephen Hunt shows one of the items included in the GRC display - a restraint-equipped tricycle.

Commemorative brick from the old administration building on the GRC campus. At one times, the facility had its own brickyard. Several other products were produced on the campus over the years.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recently announced plans to close the Glenwood Resource Center in 2024 but the history of the facility that began more than 150 years ago as an orphanage for children of Civil War soldiers will be preserved for generations to come through a new display at the Mills County Historical Museum.

“We just call it the Glenwood Resource Center display,” museum director Stephen Hunt said. “It starts out with the orphanage and we just keep moving through on a timeline system.”

The display includes dozens of artifacts and hundreds of photos and articles printed on a series of storyboards that chronologically highlight the evolution of care and treatment the facility has provided to children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. The display also provides insight into changes that have taken place through the years over the sprawling campus on “the hill” that overlooks the city of Glenwood.  

There are also stories about some of the facility’s most famous residents, including professional baseball player and evangelist Billy Sunday and Mayo Buckner who lived almost his entire life at the facility despite having an IQ of 120. There are also stories about some of the most influential administrators.

Hunt said a dedicated team of former and current museum volunteers and board members worked together for nearly four years to develop the GRC display. Specifically, he said Dick Lincoln, Dick LaRue, Jill Fender, Kathy King, Kathy Dix and Ron Bales had instrumental roles in development of the display.

“It became a labor of love for these people,” Hunt said. “They would come every Tuesday for at least two or three hours for the three or four years it took them to figure out how they wanted to lay this out.  

“There was a massive amount of research. We timelined it, we wrote it, we rewrote it and we rewrote it again. We went through hundreds of pictures to determine which ones we wanted to have in it.”

The artifacts include “Principal Registers” and journals from the early years of the facility that contain daily handwritten logs about each resident.

“It doesn’t say who made the entries but they wrote about the kids every day,” Hunt said. “There’s also log books of expenses and books that tell what crops were planted on the campus and how much was harvested.”

Hunt noted that at one time the campus had an apple orchard, acres of planted crops, livestock and a cannery.  

“They had their own milk herd. They had their own hogs and cattle to butcher,” he said. “They produced everything they needed.”

Many household products - like doilies, jewelry boxes, frames, rugs, bricks and fans – were also produced on the campus. Some of those items are displayed at the museum.

The collection of museum artifacts includes musical instruments played by residents, restraints that were used to protect children from harming themselves and a tricycle with built-in restraints.

Many of the bricks produced at what was known in the late 1800s as the Institution For Feeble-Minded Children were used in the construction of new buildings on campus. A commemorative brick in the museum display was made in the campus brickyard and used in construction of the old administration building.  

“They produced their own soft brick,” Hunt noted. “They were totally self-sufficient. They also made all the clothes for everybody. In the teens and 1920s, you’d see 50 of the girls in the same patterned dress.”

Hunt said the display is still a work in progress, stating “There’s no display in any museum that’s done.” Additional artifacts are expected to be added as the facility starts shutting down.

At one time, Hunt said consideration was given to creating a GRC museum-type display in the old fire station on campus but the decision was ultimately made to house the items in the existing museum. Hunt said he expects the closure of GRC to generate more interest in the museum’s display.

The Opinion-Tribune

116 S Walnut St Glenwood, IA 51534-1665
P.O. Box 377, Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-527-3191
Phone: 712-623-2566
Fax: 712-527-3193

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