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The rest is history

Jasper County Historical Museum celebrates 40-year anniversary

Bill Perrenoud, executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum, showcases a Minneapolis Steam Engine in the Engine House of the museum. The Jasper County Historical Museum celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Bill Perrenoud, executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum, showcases a Minneapolis Steam Engine in the Engine House of the museum. The Jasper County Historical Museum celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Across the street from the Jasper County Historical Museum is a collection of outbuildings containing some of the most important treasures and artifacts of the county’s history, but few visitors ever see the contents of those tall red barns.

Rarely does someone think of visiting the Ag Building, 1875 Barn or the Engine House, which, upon first glance, look like regular ol’ machine sheds that Iowans should be all too familiar with. Perhaps someone has a cornfield hidden behind those buildings along the 1700 block of South 15th Avenue West and needed easy access to a combine harvester. Perhaps not.

The reality of it is by the time guests finish scouring the museum’s many historical displays, they are so full of information that they go belly up, pack the family into the car and head on home for the day.

It’s a shame, too, because the agricultural exhibits and primitive farming equipment stored inside those buildings is just as important as the automatic washing machines and other advanced technologies Maytag was responsible for creating during the Newton company’s heyday.

Now that the privately funded museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary, maybe this will be the year people will be curious enough to step into those big barns to learn more about the history of agriculture and the wind industry in Jasper County. Which, for those paying close enough attention, are still important qualities in the area.

Bill Perrenoud, executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum, barely keyed into the Engine House before spoiling what was beyond its doors: a vast garage full of old school, turn-of-the-century farming machinery.

His eyes lit up as he gazed upon the massive Minneapolis Steam Engine. Perrenoud admitted he has a love of steam-powered machines, and he’ll tell you everything he knows about them if given the chance, as he will with most exhibits at the museum. Telling stories is all part of the job.

“We’re telling the story of the past of Jasper County,” Perrenoud said. “We have pictures of the very first cabin that was built in Jasper County over by the memorial room. We have the last Maytag appliance that was produced in Newton that was signed by everyone.”

It might come as a surprise to some people (or maybe just a surprise to this history-deprived reporter) but there was more than just one washing machine business in the town of Newton, the county seat and the most populated town in Jasper County.

Perrenoud said there were five businesses specializing in washing machines at one point. Newton, he described, was the “washing machine capital of the world.” Those who frequent the museum ought to know that already, but Perrenoud said it is quite common for folks to stumble upon new information or experience those “aha” moments.

Expanding the story of Jasper County’s past is no doubt one of the museum’s greatest strengths. Having artifacts on display is great and all, but Perrenoud said it is the stories behind those artifacts that makes the museum and the area’s history so intriguing.

“To me, museums are of a valuable purpose in showing what it was like way back when and how that all worked, and it might help them understand why things are the way they are now,” Perrenoud said.

For instance, he added, the “hidden treasures” tucked away in the barns adjacent to the museum offer more insight to the progression of farming in Jasper County. Preserved equipment and tools show just how advanced technology has become for farmers. Exhibits of old-yet-still-familiar businesses like the Newton Seed Store further develop the story of agriculture.

“Newton and Baxter and Colfax and Monroe and all the other communities that are a part of Jasper County didn’t survive on washing machines. They survived on agriculture,” Perrenoud said. “(The barns) across the street show some of the components of that agricultural business to show people what they did, how it worked.”

As do the displays of Newton’s staple washing machine business, among other exhibits in the museum. Of course there is more to Jasper County’s history than its farming roots and successes in industry. Countless stories are still waiting to be told.

What better time to hear about them now that the museum is four decades old.

“Folks, if you haven’t been here yet, this would be a great time to come and see it,” Perrenoud said.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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