( B1 ) - Welcome
Hello, welcome to the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives!
Our museum is a private nonprofit organization established in 1968.
Our collections and archives are housed in these two historically significant buildings: the former Clay County State Bank and the Francis Hotel, both of which date to the early days of the previous century.
( B2 ) - Clay County State Bank
- The former bank was founded in 1894.
- It was located two blocks south of this current location.
- In 1902, William S. Woods, a Kansas City financier, acquired controlling interest in the bank, which was among many banks he eventually owned regionally.
- The Woodses left money for the William Woods Christian Church building here on Concourse and for the William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri.
- He was head of the bank when the new building was designed by noted regional architect Louis S. Curtiss.
- It opened in this location in 1906.
- The site had previously been part of the hotel grounds for the town’s first hotel, The Excelsior Hotel.
- The bank building is in the Italian Renaissance style with a classical temple front.
- Many of the features you see are original to the bank, including the marble tile floors, mahogany fixtures and wrought brass grating.
- The barrel vault ceiling is studded with 112 electrical lights. Five years ago, with a grant from Ameren, we had LED lights installed in this ceiling and throughout the museum.
( B3 ) - Louis S. Curtiss
- This building is one of only about 35 still-existing structures designed by Louis S. Curtiss, a well-known regional architect from Kansas City.
- Curtiss was known for his use of the “curtain wall” construction, which generations later made the modern skyscraper possible.
- This type of construction features metal girders and large glass walls that hang off them, rather than solid block walls.
( B4 ) - The Murals
The murals at each end of the ceiling were painted before 1920 by the Hungarian Count Edmond de Szaak [pronounced “duh zak”].
- “The Angelus" on the north side and “The Gleaners” above the vault may be very familiar to you.
- These are copies of the originals painted by Jean Francois Millet that hang in museums in France.
- But they were painted here more than 100 years ago, and even though they are not the originals, we consider them local treasures.
( B5 ) - About the Museum
- Nonprofit, not supported by tax dollars
- All volunteer – not paid staff
- Volunteers create several new displays each year. With more than 34,000 items preserved in our collections, we like to rotate items each year and tell new stories from our local history.
- The Display Cases in the middle of the floor are original to the bank. We use them to display smaller items from our collections.
( B6 ) - Hedges Display
- The Richard C. Hedges/McCleary display tells the story of the impact of the Hedges family (McCleary descendants) on the local economy and the civic and cultural life of Excelsior Springs for generations.
- Significant items in this display were donated by Dr. Richard Hedges, a McCleary grandson, who was the last chief of staff at the hospital before it closed in 1972.
- The A.S. McCleary portrait hung in the lobby at McCleary’s.
- The alabaster bust is of his wife, Anna Nelson McCleary. After retiring from medical practice, A.S. resumed a childhood hobby – sculpting – and you’ll see several photos of him working in this display.
- Hedge’s father, B.C. Hedges, was married to Irma McCleary – the first of the family to move from Kansas City to Excelsior Springs in 1919.
- B.C. opened the Ford dealership here that same year. You’ll see photos of the dealership, which today is the site of the Tim Tipton Law office.
- This building became the McCleary Clinic when Dr. McCleary moved his hospital from KC to Excelsior Springs in 1924-25.
- Significant homes pictured include the McCleary Manor (now The Inn at Crescent Lake) and the “honeymoon cottage” of B.C. and Irma McCleary Hedges (now Sunnyside Cottage B&B.)
- Hedges also was instrumental in the development of the Y shopping center on the west edge of town.
- In addition to founding businesses that employed generations of people here, this family was instrumental in fun events such as the Mulesta Festival (mule rodeo) and they were active in the Boy Scouts.
- Another photo in the exhibit featuring Dr. A.S. McCleary is a detail from the Thomas Hart Benton mural in the Missouri Capitol building. Dr. McCleary is in the top left of the jury box.
- Both McCleary sons became doctors, although the oldest, Neff, became a noted artist, archaeologist and lecturer who lived off and on in Europe for about 20 years until Hitler invaded France.
- The Neff McCleary cartoon from the KC Star in 1925 is captioned “I saw him first” and pokes fun at the competition among cab drivers for fares at the Milwaukee Railroad Depot here.
- C. Hedges acquired or had a hand in developing many businesses here in addition to McCleary’s (where he was the longtime business manager) and the Ford dealership – including the Excelsior Laundry (point out steam whistle near the front door), and the Phillips “Model Tourist City” once located at Jesse James Road at Tracy Avenue northwest of town.
( B7 ) - Wabash & Ventanna Display
- Two fixtures of our community’s restaurant scene, Wabash barbecue and Ventana Gourmet Grill, mark milestones this year.
- The Wabash Display celebrates the 25th anniversary of the popular barbecue restaurant, located just west of the Elms Hotel.
- Wabash has drawn visitors from all over to Excelsior Springs since it opened in 1997. Wabash has won numerous awards in barbecue competitions and hosted the local “BBQ and Fly-In Festival” here each August. The August event is in its 22nd
- The Wabash is a generous supporter of community events, local students and, of course, our Museum.
- The Ventana Gourmet Grill display honors the 20th anniversary of another local restaurant with a widespread reputation for great food and great service.
- Ventana opened on Feb. 1, 2002, in a dark period for the local community and has been pivotal in sparking a revival in the historic downtown.
( B8 ) - Photos & Photographers
This display features three of the earliest photographers to document Excelsior Springs.
Two of the photographers featured – H.H. Kasson and J.E. “Joe” Diveley – had studios here for many years.
The most famous, Solomon D. Butcher, visited at least twice from his home in Nebraska. Butcher postcards are highly collectible, and our Museum regularly seeks to acquire them when they come on the market.
( B8a ) - H.H. Kasson/Kasson Hickox
- H.H. Kasson had a studio here by about 1894. He had a monopoly on local photography until Diveley set up shop by about 1906.
- One of the most curious things about Kasson is that he used his first name as his last name in business. His actual full name was Kasson Hickox.
- He and his family left Excelsior Springs in 1909, ultimately retiring as a photographer in Chicago.
- He was known for his group shots of visitors in front of the popular Siloam Pavilion near his studio on Broadway.
( B8b ) - J.E. "Joe" Diveley
- J.E. Diveley was a man of few words. In an interview in 1913, he described his job simply: “I make photographs.”
- Mrs. Diveley operated the local Western Union telegraph office in the same building where the studio was located on Broadway. They lived above their storefronts.
- Diveley lost photographic supplies and about $200 of Christmas work that he had under way in a fire in December 1911.
- They left Excelsior Springs about a year later.
( B8c ) - Solomon Butcher
- Solomon Butcher is known for his documentary photographs of the homesteaders and sod homesteads of Nebraska.
- He visited Excelsior Springs in the late 1890s with his wife and son, presumably to “take the waters” like other visitors.
- The Butcher collection of photographic postcards includes one of “the old Elms,” which had burned in 1898 and had not yet been rebuilt when they visited again in 1908.
- Note the photo on the display sign that shows one of our main arteries, Thompson Avenue, when it was virtually devoid of business buildings.
- Butcher himself is pictured with his camera on a tripod.
( B9 ) - Tripp Flag
- A small print of the “Tripp Flag” also known as “Our Flag” is posted in several places around the Museum.
- The original oil painting is about 6 feet tall and still belongs to the family.
- The artist was Fred Tripp, from Beloit, Wisconsin, who was a patient at McCleary’s around 1937.
- We believe this is the only image of the flag at peace. We often spot it in movies or tv shows as part of the set decoration for an office scene.
- Tripp was a sign painter and interior decorator who reportedly had never had a lesson in fine art painting.
- After a nationwide tour, Tripp presented the original to the McCleary’s, and it was hung in the hospital lobby.
- The small lithograph prints were sent all over the nation to McCleary patients. McCleary’s printed 200,000 in 1940 alone.
( B10 ) - Vault Door
- The round vault door at the south end was installed during the 1919 expansion. It weighs 10 tons, or 20,000 pounds, but it can be moved easily. Take a look at the huge hinges – the reason it is so perfectly balanced. Visitors often ask if they’ll get locked in, but the pins are removed so that can’t happen.
- There is a second vault on this floor opposite the military room. It houses our archive of vertical files, including surnames, businesses, streets, schools and other topics, along with books, city directories, maps and photographs.
( B11 ) - Excelsior Springs Video
( B12 ) - Marble Plaques
- Outside this vault are two large marble plaques that are from the pavilion erected in 1917 on the site of the first spring, the Siloam Spring. Kansas City landscape architect George Kessler designed beautiful grounds for the 1917 Siloam Spring’s domed pavilion, and he created a landscape plan for parkway drives throughout the town to the Elms Hotel and Golf Hill. His design was never fully realized, but you can still get glimpses of some of the plan when you drive around town. The marble plaques were removed when the pavilion was torn down about 1935 to make way for the Hall of Waters.
- There is a cornerstone that came from the Bates & Wilcox grocery store at 205 West Broadway.
( B13 ) - Military Room
- We’re proud of our “Military Room” where we honor local veterans. Three large binders hold their photos and military history.
- The current focus is on WWII.
- You’ll see a timeline of major events, local veterans’ photos divided by “land, sea and air,” and a look at what was happening here on the home front during those years of service and sacrifice.
( B14 ) - Morse Living Room
- The “Morse Living Room” features key artifacts from the E.E. Morse mansion that once was located on Beacon Hill -- what we now call “Job Corps Hill.”
- Featured are stained glass from the mansion, a stunning mantel and mirror, and a candelabra on an urn.
- A selection of the china dinner plates that the Morses used when they hosted the sitting Vice President of the U.S., Charles Fairbanks (VP under Teddy Roosevelt.)
- A round tea table from the Marguerite Morse McConnell estate and period mahogany armchairs from the estate of a former teacher, Jane Blattner, adds warmth to the room.
( B15 ) - Pump Organ
• The pump organ came from the home of a descendant of one of the earliest families in Clay County. [The Means family.]
• It was played in their home in Excelsior Springs.
• It was made by A.B. Chase Organ Company of Norwalk, Ohio.
( B16 ) - Victrola
- The Victrola was made by the Victor Talking Machine Company based in Camden, N.J. It still works.
- Donated to the museum by Stewart McCaskill.
- It was sold by Jenkins Music Co., in Kansas City, in 1925 and shipped to Excelsior Springs.
- During that same period, Victrolas were sold in Excelsior Springs at the Bill Sisk Book Store (once located three doors east of the museum), and at the Kimber jewelry store on South Street.
( B17 ) - Teller Cages
The Museum uses the bank teller cages to display various equipment used by local businesses, including this bank:
- The Linotype Printing Press was used by early Excelsior printer J.B. Hyder before 1900.
- The adding machine with red buttons purchased by the Clay County State Bank in 1931.
- The bank president at the time, W.T. Kemper Jr., gave it to Sam Sherwood, a local Realtor who was this museum’s first president.
- In the Bank ledgers the accounts would have to be balanced each day by hand. There were no computers! Note the differences in penmanship of 1925, 1941, and 1960.
( B18 ) - Founding Family
- This year’s Founding Family exhibit from the Excelsior Springs Genealogy Society features surprising new information related to both Travis Million and his father-in-law, Calloway Finley. It includes two binders of Million and Finley family history.
- Travis Million is credited with being involved in discovering the “healing properties” of the local mineral water springs. [Note: It is a myth – widely repeated here—to say that Travis’s daughter Opal was involved in the discovery of Siloam Spring – she wasn’t born until 20 years later. There are several accounts – some indicate it was a son of Travis Million, others just say a “negro man.”
- Million was a farm laborer who threshed the last wheatfield for landowner Anthony Wyman before Excelsior Springs was founded. He is credited with threshing the last wheatfield on the 40 acres that became the original town.
- After the town was established, Travis Million is known to have worked at the springs and pavilions.
- The story of Million’s father-in-law is also significant to Excelsior’s early history. While Travis Million arrived here as a free man, his father-in-law Calloway Finley was enslaved on land owned by Travis Finley (his land is a large part of one of the town’s largest subdivisions – King’s Addition north of town.)
- In an 1857 will, Travis Finley provided for his four adult slaves to be freed upon his death, and he also wanted them to get $100 each.
- Travis Finley did not die until after the Civil War, so they already were freed.
- We have no documentation that his bequest was honored – BUT in that same year, Calloway Finley bought about 40 acres of land, right next to Anthony Wyman on the west side of the original downtown.
- When he died, Calloway’s heirs sold the land, and it is where the early landmark Music Hall auditorium – later a sanitarium and bathhouse – was built, facing the Elms Hotel. The Music Hall burned in 1908.
( B19 ) - Beauty Shop
- Note the Helene Curtiss machine for creating the wavy or curly hair popular in the 1930s. Hair is curled around a metal curler and the contraption is clipped onto the curler – and 110 volts of electricity will “curl your hair.”
( B20 ) - Gift Shop
Our gift shop has a selection of Excelsior Springs souvenir T-shirts, books on local history, Tripp Flag prints, postcards and more.
( B21 ) - Elms China
- We have many china pieces used at the Elms Hotel over the years. This display focuses on china pieces used in Elms guest rooms and in the dining room. Take a close look at the logo on the dining room china – the Elm tree spells out the name of the hotel.
( B22 ) - Epitome of Elegance
These items from the Laura Emrick Robichaux Collection, harken back to a more elegant time, where women would never have been seen in public without their hats and gloves. She even had a collection of ornamental shoe buckles. Laura and her husband, Dr. Eugene Robichaux, honeymooned in 1937 aboard the ship where he was the ship’s doctor. Dr. Robichaux followed his father into medical practice here and Laura Robichaux was a social leader – and clearly, a style leader.