Old Independence Regional Museum gives visitors chance to look back in time

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published September 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 27, 2013 at 10:22 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Amanda Nikkel, humanities educator, left, and Sherry Matthews, a volunteer, stand in front of the main gallery at the Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville.

BATESVILLE — The Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville gives visitors a chance to reminisce, but its journey to becoming a museum was a long one.

The building that houses the museum is itself a part of history, having been constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936 to serve as an armory for the National Guard. Then add the many artifacts inside, and every person who visits the museum is given a chance to look back and remember how things used to be.

Twyla Gill Wright, curator of exhibits at the museum, has been with the museum since its beginning in 1998. Wright said it has taken a long time to make the dream of a museum in the area a reality.

“During the last part of 1990, I was the president of the Historical Society of Independence County, and we formed a planning committee for a museum,” she said.

The society then began investigating what they needed to do to start a museum.

“In 1993, we had 18 members on our planning committee,” Wright said, which included a representative from each of the 12 counties represented by the project.

Though the committee was formed, she said, there was still a lot of uncertainty.

“We didn’t know what kind of planning we needed to put the museum in place,” she said. “We had a full set of policies, but no building.”

Wright said a site-selection committee then came across the old National Guard armory in Batesville.

“When we saw the building, it was empty. There were boarded-up windows and birds inside, but it was a historic building,” she said.

After a few months of paperwork and research, Wright said, she and the rest of the committee talked to the owners of the building.

“They said they would grant the deed to us when we had $400,000 in gifts and pledges,” Wright said. “Within seven months, we had it.”

The museum was then granted a 501-C-3 designation to qualify as an educational, nonprofit organization.

In 1997, the deed was turned over to the committee, and renovations and reconstruction began on the building.

“We opened on Sept. 12, 1998,” Wright said.

Wright started working as the volunteer curator of collections at the museum. When the museum’s director left in 2007, Wright said she formed a management team, which included the museum’s current office manager and a part-time humanities educator.

“I then served as director of volunteer programs,” Wright said.

After serving in that position, Wright moved on to her current position as curator of exhibits.

“I work with the team to figure out how to use the artifacts we’ve been given and figure out the things we might need,” she said. “I also fabricate exhibits by putting them together and installing them.”

Wright said it is important for people to learn about their heritage and where they came from.

“Our museum gives older people a way to remember and serves as a springboard for parents and grandparents to tell stories to their children and grandchildren,” she said.

The artifacts in the museum give visitors a chance to relive a memory they have with a toy that is on display, or tell a story about their first trip to the beauty parlor when they see the 1930s permanent-wave machine in the gallery.

“We’re really proud of our museum,” Wright said.

The museum will open another exhibit on Saturday to give visitors a chance to look back and see what life was like in Civil War days.

“It’s important to learn what happened so we can learn from it,” Wright said.

More information about the Old Independence Regional Museum is available at www.oirm.org.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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