McGregor Historical Museum proves itself a treasure of Clayton County
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
By Rachel Mergen, North Iowa Times
According to McGregor Historical Museum Director Diane Malcom, at one point in time, Iowa was preparing to have McGregor be as large and well-known as Chicago. Standing at a population of less than a thousand, this former dream may not have occurred due to great flooding and fires, but the city is still able to claim a unique history, full of many stories that are now protected within the walls of its local museum.
Exhibits in the McGregor Historical Museum include historical photographs of the city, Native American history, Mississippi River history, a military display, an authentic pipe from the local Catholic church and local deaf artist Andrew Clemens’ sand bottles from the 1800s, along with much more.
The story of McGregor’s founder and namesake Alexander MacGregor can also be found within the museum. He established the first ferry from Prairie du Chien to the future town. According to the city’s website, this event took place after MacGregor was at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien and tried to help a group of immigrants who wanted to cross the river. After helping prepare a flat boat from the fort to help get them across to what is now McGregor, he realized a permanent way to cross was necessary, which led to the opening of the ferry.
Photographs of the Diamond Jo Reynolds riverboats found in the river during McGregor’s early days are on display.
The Ringling Brothers can be learned about within the museum, as their first show occurred in the city—the start of The Greatest Show on Earth.
Famed Winnebago Chief Waukon Decorah’s descendant Emma Big Bear is pictured and her story is displayed in one of the exhibits. Included are samples of her black ash baskets and bead work.
Hand-tinted photographs are found within the museum by local photographer Margery Goergen.
With the devastating McGregor tornado of 2017, much harm came to the historic downtown Main Street. The museum contains photographs of this street through its history that immortalize the loss and damage of the tornado. Visitors will be reminded of the beauty of the city and what the tragic event ripped away from future generations, as the McGregor community continues to unite to recover the beloved area and its history.
The museum is proud to own the “John Goedert” sign, which was the only remaining artifact to Malcom’s knowledge, of the Goedert building after it was destroyed by the tornado.
The tornado is not the only recent event that has created history within the town. Malcom noted that the restoration of the next door Sullivan Opera House is also big for the little city, “The development of that site combined with the museum next door will be a nice attraction for this part of downtown McGregor.”
Malcom hopes visitors realize, when visiting the little museum, “that McGregor has a very long and interesting history.”
Malcom noted younger members of society may not be too interested in history at the moment, but she suspects that one day they will become so, “when they begin to face their own mortality.” Older people, in her experience, seem to crave the opportunity to leave some legacy behind to their children and future descendants.
If interested in researching family history, members of the community may call the museum to make an appointment with the resident genealogist. “It seems to me everyone wants to know where their ancestors came from and what they were thinking. That knowledge helps to drive us in our lives today,” Malcom said.
In the near future, the museum hopes to help locals learn more about their ancestors, along with the history of their community, with a greater convenience than currently offered. Their goal, with the help of donations and shared efforts with the Clayton County Genealogical Society and the McGregor Public Library, is to digitalize the North Iowa Times and other area newspapers from their first publications to approximately 2010. This would allow those interested to use their website to look up digital copies of the North Iowa Times, Iowa’s third oldest weekly newspaper, back to 1856.
To donate to this project and the museum itself, contact the museum at (563) 873-2221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The museum appreciates donated artifacts, as “they enhance some things we already know and some things we don’t yet,” said Malcom. Tours of the museum may also be booked by contacting the museum staff.
The McGregor Historical Museum is located at 256 Main St. The museum is open from Memorial Day weekend until the last weekend of October each year. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m. The museum is free for visitors to enjoy.
More information can be found at www.mcgregormuseum.org or on the museum’s Facebook page..