A trip to the Florence B. Dearing Museum, is a walk into Hartland’s past. Behind the “big green doors” at the museum, 3503 Avon St., are reminders both big and small of the area’s history.
One of the first things people see is a wooden cabinet of post office boxes. And museum volunteers are quick to point out that the wooden floor bears oil stains from leaky fire engines.
The oil stains are from the time the building served as the local government offices, and the fire station, said Treasurer Barbara Krueger, of the Hartland Area Historical Society. As the fire trucks became larger as years went by, they were stored in increasingly larger areas of the building.
A unique item in the front of the museum is a Cromaine Crafts weaving loom. Made in Hartland, it bears the words, “Things Useful and Beautiful.”
It’s from the days when J. Robert Crouse, a grandson of Hartland’s founders, wanted women to be able to earn money, especially during the Great Depression, Krueger said. Many men had lost their jobs.
So, Crouse brought women who were expert weavers to Hartland, to teach others how to weave and make looms. This and other stories are told in “Hartland: Weaving the Past with the Present” — a hardcover book available for purchase at the museum, for $47.70.
Because of the weaving industry, many looms were built in Hartland, including one displayed at the museum. In the fall, someone found one of the Cromaine Crafts looms for sale on Craigslist, Krueger said. A friend of the museum drove to Indiana to pick it up, not realizing how large the loom was. He had to go back the next day, with a bigger truck, she said.
The museum closed in 2009 for refurbishing, and items from the museum went into storage while the work took place. Before the museum reopened in 2011, volunteers brought the historical items back into the building. Some of the clothes from yesteryear, which were packed in boxes, are now on display. Historical society members are looking for ideas from Hartland area residents, who might know who could have worn the clothing, Krueger said. Some of the clothing includes old military uniforms.
Another unique exhibit in the museum is a collection of taxidermy animals, preserved by Martha Dexter Street, who lived on Hogan Road near Fenton. She was seriously injured in June 1870 and could no longer leave her home, so she began to do taxidermy. It all began with a taxidermy robin, and now Dexter Street’s taxidermy work is on display at the Florence B. Dearing Museum.
Some of the taxidermy includes a chicken, a crow, a white-and-brown spotted rabbit and an otter. The otter’s fur is said to have faded to a lighter color through the years, Krueger said.
In addition, a large, glass case holds an American flag with 36 stars. It’s from 1865-67, around the end of the Civil War.
Someone might know how the flag ties in with local history, Krueger said. Many area residents donated items like the flag, to the late Florence Dearing. The flag at the museum might have flown over a school, and it has the name “Frank McClure,” a previous Fenton resident, written on it. McClure might have relatives still living in the Hartland/Fenton area, and the historical society would like to know the flag’s local history if anyone knows it, Krueger said.
Volunteers are still organizing the museum after its reopening on Memorial Day, 2011, so donations are on hold for now, she said. One item historical society members would really like donated, though, is an ice box.
These were used in the days before electricity and refrigerators, to keep food safe. Hartland residents would cut ice from Ore Creek in the winter and store it in ice boxes, to keep food in the boxes cold. They would pack sawdust around the ice to help keep it from melting.
For those who would like to visit the museum, its winter hours are 1-3 p.m. on Sundays, 3503 Avon St. in downtown Hartland. More information is available at www.hartlandareahistory.org.