The Lucas County Historical Society was organized in 1965. On March 19 of that year, 22 people interested in preserving the history of Lucas County met in the court room of the Court House in Chariton, Iowa. The first officers were Young Pearson, president; Raymond Pim, vice-president; and Mrs. John (Beth) Ginn, secretary. Beth resigned soon after and Mrs. Ralph (Norma) Pim was chosen to fill out her elected term. Frank L. Mott was elected treasurer. Directors were W.C. Stuart, Robert Wagstaff, Dr. R.C. Gutch, Gilbert Garton, and Mrs. M.C. (Margaret) Fisher. On June 22, 1965, incorporation papers were written.
In 1966, a decision was made to purchase the A. J. Stephens property at 123 N.17th St. in Chariton. This lovely 1908 home was well suited for a museum. Three and a half acres were included in the $10,500 purchase price. Plaques were sold to be on exhibit for $50 each as a fund-raiser. On Sept. 19, 1968, a formal open house was held. There were 2,326 items in the collection by then. The collection now includes more than 40,000 artifacts displayed in seven buildings. Many volunteers have spent countless hours cataloging items, conserving artifacts and arranging displays to help Lucas Countyans and other visitors remember the past.
Keeping the faith and preserving the artifacts of our forefathers was not a new idea in Lucas County. The first Lucas County Historical Society was organized on June 10, 1901 --- the first county historical society organized in Iowa. Officers were Warren S. Dungan, president; Thomas V. Gay, vice-president; Miss Effie M. Dungan, secretary; B. F. Bates, treasurer; and Miss Margaret Brown, curator. That historical society incorporated the earlier Lucas County Old Settlers Association, organized on Sept. 7, 1895, and a Veterans Association. Although that first historical society did not survive, its records are in the collection of its successor.
The first addition to the museum campus came In 1967-68 after Ottercreek No. 3 School, commonly known as Puckerbrush, was purchased for a bid of one dollar from the Chariton Community School Board by Irene Garton and Norma Pim. It was moved in 1968 by the Keith Kent Construction Co. to the museum grounds. The school was built in 1869 and was located in Ottercreek Township in the northwest corner of Lucas County not far from the Clarke County line. Restoration was completed and the formal opening was held in 1969.
In 1976, Otterbein Church, located south of Chariton along Highway 14 and donated by former members, was moved to the grounds. The Lucas County Bicentennial Commission had the responsibility of moving and restoring the building. A fund drive raised about $4,000 for the project. After many hours of volunteer help, the church was dedicated on July 4, 1976.
The John L. Lewis Building, housing extensive displays, a commons area and the administrative office, was built in three phases. The first phase, named to honor coal miners of Lucas County and the native son who became president of the United Mine Workers of America and a giant in the American labor movement, was dedicated on July 4, 1976. A library on the main floor was named to honor Irene Garton, from 1966 until 1970 the society’s first curator.
In 1981, a lean-to addition was constructed on the west side of the Lewis Building in which to display agricultural items. A 2005 bequest from the Swanson estate paid for insulating and finishing the interior of this gallery.
The east wing was added in 1991-92 to house a display gallery on the lower level and a commons area and administrative office on the upper level.
In 1995, it was decided to build a timber framed barn. The frame of an old barn on the Showalter farm was moved from its original location and reconstructed on museum property. The roof and siding are all new, installed over the original frame. Construction was done by Jennings Construction of Corydon and volunteer labor from the membership.
A log cabin built by pioneers in section 2 of Liberty Township was donated by the Schaefer family in 1995. An Amish crew dismantled it for transport to the museum grounds. It was not until 2001 that construction was completed, using mostly the original logs but new material for roof, rafters and beams. Grants and volunteer labor were instrumental in its reconstruction.
A blacksmith shop that also will contain much-needed storage and work areas is currently under construction on the museum grounds.
It always has been the goal of the Lucas County Historical Society to display all but the most fragile of its more than 40,000 artifacts and roughly 98 percent of those items may be viewed today in museum buildings.
Although the Lucas County Historical Society receives a small and much-appreciated annual grant from Lucas County, the museum campus has been developed, is maintained and grows almost entirely because amazing volunteers and funding derived from memberships, gifts, memorials, bequests and grants. It has been and continues to be a grass-roots effort in the best tradition of Lucas County, the state of Iowa and the United States of America.