Procure ~ Preserve ~ Provide
Sharing the past with each generation
History of the Museum
By 1967, Judd Palmer, former director of Parks and Recreation, had amassed quite a large collection of Indian artifacts from this area, which he wanted to share with others. He appeared before the City Council to urge that a museum be established to house these and any other articles of historical interest. On April 10, 1967, the Excelsior Springs City Council appointed a six-member committee to organize a city museum. The organizational meeting was held May 26, 1967. Plans were made to secure a state charter. The south end of the Water Bar at the Hall of Waters was selected as a display site.
The charter for the Excelsior Springs Historical Museum was issued December 6, 1967, with 101 charter members. The bylaws were adopted on January 28, 1968. The first president was Sam C. Sherwood, a local Realtor. There were seven board members. In subsequent years, the name was changed to Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives. In 2001, the city had sold the bank building to the Chamber of Commerce. The museum purchased both the bank building and the former hotel building from the Chamber of Commerce in 2004. Following a community effort and extensive renovation to make the space next door to the bank building usable, the Museum expanded into the old Frances Hotel in 2006 and turned it into the Francis Exhibition Hall.
History of The Bank
History of the Fancis Building
The Clay County State Bank was established May 9, 1894, by a group of local businessmen. The bank was first housed in a building at the corner of Broadway and Marietta Street.
In 1902, Dr. William Stone Woods, a Kansas City financier, acquired controlling interest in the bank.
By 1905, the business had grown to such an extent that larger quarters were needed. The bank already owned land at the corner of East Broadway and South Main Street that had been part of the hotel grounds for The Excelsior Hotel, the first hotel built after the town's founding. Dr. Woods saw it as the ideal site for the new building. The architect, Louis S. Curtiss of Kansas City employed the "curtain Wall" type of architecture in its construction. Curtiss was one of the first, if not the first, architects to use this type of construction, which eventually led to the modern skyscraper. Construction was of Bedford sandstone at a cost of about $25,000. Built in the neo-classical revival style, it was considered one of the most artistic bank buildings in Missouri. The original building extended from the columns on the west, to the back of the tellers’ cages on the east. On February 28, 1906, the Clay County State Bank opened its doors for business in the new edifice.
Dr. Woods was a man of unusual foresight, but he underestimated the growth of Excelsior Springs and the corresponding development of the bank. As the 1920s approached, the volume of business made the building inadequate to the current demands. At the first Directors Meeting of 1920, plans were presented to extend the building 4 feet on the west, 8 feet on the east, and several feet on the south, bringing the building to its present size. The paintings on the north and south walls were presumably done at this time. They are copies of the original Jean Francois Millet paintings, "The Gleaners" on the south wall and "The Angelus" on the north wall. Although they are copies, they are considered local treasures, having graced each end of the bank's stunning barrel vault ceiling for more than 100 years.
In 1950, the building underwent further remodeling, with the front of the structure receiving the most notable change. The steps were removed and a new entryway added at that time.
In 1968, the Clay County State Bank became affiliated with the Kemper family's Commerce Bancshares Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri. Commerce erected a new building at the northwest corner of Broadway and Thompson Avenue, on the site of the old Chadwick Hotel. At that time, the Kemper Foundation sold the building to the city of Excelsior Springs for a nominal fee.
The building at 103-105 Broadway is now known as the museum's Francis Exhibition Hall. Its history is not as well documented as the bank portion of the museum. It was built sometime after 1913 on the remaining portion of former hotel grounds. The first floor was used as retail space, while the second floor was used as guest rooms for St. Joe Hotel, located behind the bank building with the entrance on South Main. In 1934, Francis Parle, a well-known local hotel clerk, and a partner bought the St. Joe Hotel and changed its name to The Francis. The first floor has housed several businesses including a shoe store, Excelsior Institute & Hospital, and Wicker’s Furniture prior to the city obtaining it in the late 1980s. The city bought the building because it was in poor condition and in danger of collapsing. Because it was connected with the bank/museum, it became important to preserve it. In 2001 the city transferred ownership of the bank and the Francis to the Chamber of Commerce. They cleaned out the unstable flooring on the first floor and started to clean out the second floor by removing plaster and lath. Currently eight of the 15 second floor rooms are framed only by studs. In 2003 the Chamber sold the buildings to the museum.
The Francis stood dormant until the summer of 2006 when an upcoming Smithsonian Exhibit was going to require the entire floor space of the bank. A group of local people decided the Francis needed to be rehabbed to hold the museum’s showcases during the exhibition. The building is a tribute to the community's civic pride. The original estimate to rehab the Francis was upwards of $150,000; it was rehabbed to its current condition for less than $42,000. This was accomplished by volunteers, including students from the Excelsior Job Corps and electrical trade classes from the Career Center, and suppliers who donated or provided materials at a greatly reduced cost.
History of Excelsior Springs
Alec Hardwick was the original land grant owner of the land where Excelsior Springs is now located.
Anthony and Elizabeth Wyman were the landowners of the small valley when a man who worked his wheatfield there, Travis Million, used the mineral water to treat a skin disease afflicting one of his children. Word of the child's "cure" spread widely, reaching the ear of a circuit-riding minister from Missouri City, 10 miles south. Wyman and the minister, the Rev. John Van Buren Flack, soon formed a partnership and informally founded the town on Sept. 1, 1880. In February of 1881, it was incorporated as a village and on July 12, 1881, it obtained status as a city of the fourth class. The founding and development of the city of Excelsior Springs is indeed a story of water.
The Rev. Flack sent the water to a St. Louis chemist for analysis, and began widely publicizing the stories of mineral water "cures." Flack built a home, a dry goods store and founded the first church in the new 40-acre town. The Wymans built their own home in the new town and began selling tracts for homes and businesses. One of those businesses was the town's first hotel, which Wyman had built in partnership with a man named Werts. It later was named The Excelsior Hotel, "Excelsior" being the name first given to the town, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s popular 1841 poem of that name. Because there already was a village with a post office in Missouri named Excelsior, the town was first called "Viginti" (Latin for "twenty") because by that time it was believed there were 20 mineral springs in the vicinity. But the cry of "down to Excelsior" eventually won out and the name "Excelsior Springs" was adopted after 1882. The original spring, however, was renamed "Siloam."
In less than a year, 200 houses were nestled in the little valley and clung to the rugged hillsides, while hundreds of visitors had to content themselves at campfires, under tents and in the shelter of their wagons. A second spring was found in 1881. First known as Empire, it later was renamed the Regent Spring. Regent's sulpho-saline mineral water and the ginger ale produced at the bottling plant south of the Elms Hotel both received medals at the Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893 and the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904. The third mineral water spring was the Relief Spring found almost in the basin of Dry Fork of Fishing River.
Because of the large number of visitors who poured into the city, many wells were dug and soon waters with various combination of names were being sold based on mineral content. Essentially, there were four distinct types of spring waters here: Ferro-manganese; Sodium bicarbonate; Saline and soda combined; and Sulpho-saline water. With four iron-manganese springs discovered, it is believed that the Fishing River valley of Excelsior Springs hold the largest concentration of iron-manganese springs in the world.
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