Museum a Civil War treasure trovePublished 11:01am Tuesday, February 19, 2013
If you ever thought your family collected enough junk to start a museum, talk to Jay Johnson. He has spent years going through family memorabilia — enough to fill the Prospect House Civil War Museum in Battle Lake. And while he did have to sort through a lot of junk, what his family collected and documented ranges from interesting to extremely rare and valuable Civil War artifacts, as well as furnishings and other collectibles dating back to the 1800s.
Johnson has been working on some new displays, and had two very important visitors on Thursday.
President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln were on hand to discuss the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed by the President during the Civil War in 1863, proclaiming all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free. The Proclamation is often remembered in February as part of Black History month.
The Lincolns, played by reinactors Dale and Sharon Koehen, have visited the museum before.
“I am just amazed at some of the civil war artifacts that are here,” said Dale. “Not only are there extremely rare pieces, Jay knows the complete story with each piece.”
Johnson’s family was indeed great archivists, writing notes on photos and documents, or attaching notes to personal items. And while Johnson grumbles that it took him six weeks to go through the library room, he has honed his skills as a museum curator in the process.
Another new display Johnson has created is a collection of vintage valentines and book covers, many more than 100 years old. The valentines, which are set up around the dining room, will be on display through the end of February.
An upcoming display will break with the Civil War theme, and add family memorabilia from World War II.
The three-story Prospect House is also Johnson’s family home. His great grandfather, Cap Colehour, built the Georgian style mansion in 1882 after returning from the Civil War, and later added a large addition that he ran as a hotel until 1924 when his wife made him retire at age 82. Cap’s daughter, Kathrina, and her husband, Ernest Wilkins, remodeled the interior five years later, in 1929. The house’s furnishings and décor have not been changed since that time.
“This is the original furniture purchased in 1929 from Dayton’s,” said Johnson, who has run the family home as a museum for nearly four years.
Upstairs, above windows in two of the bedrooms, photographs show what the view out the windows looked like before the town was built. Each room of the home follows a theme, whether it be Civil War memorabilia, dolls the Colehour children played with, bedroom furniture and antique clothing, or paintings done by Jay’s mother, Kay Wilkins Johnson.
Century-old trees define the grounds where the Prospect House was originally built and remains today as a historical site in Battle Lake. Historical markers around the yard tell the story of the Prospect House, and since Johnson has dug a snow path to each marker, visitors can read about the history of the site, even in the middle of winter.
While there are regular hours spring through fall, an appointment is requested for a winter tour of Prospect House. A typical tour takes 45 to 90 minutes, and is recommended for ten people or less. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for students 13 to 18 years old, and children 12 and under are free with a paying adult.
Volunteers are also welcome to help out at the nonprofit museum. For a tour, or to volunteer, call 218-864-4008.
The personal tour of the mansion, complete with history on each room and items within are well worth the price of admission.