By Susan Redden
PINEVILLE, Mo. —
As Jean Stratton-Bird made her way into the war memorial room at the Old McDonald County Courthouse on Thursday, she came face to face with the memories of her brother Eldon E. Stratton, who was lost in battle in 1943 during War World II.
“He is finally home,” Stratton-Bird said.
Through countless donations of people like Stratton-Bird, the history of McDonald County now has a permanent residence in the old county courthouse. Though it was once up for consideration to be torn down by city officials a few years ago, the remodeled courthouse will open this weekend as a museum dedicated to the history of the county.
Much of the transitional work fell on the shoulders of Fred Lamb and his wife, Raylene, who is the president of the McDonald County Historical Society. Their restoration efforts that started two years ago have secured the courthouse’s place on the National Register of Historic Places.
The grand opening of the museum, located at 400 N. Main St., will include music, horseshoe tournaments and historical demonstrations Saturday through Monday. Each day’s activities will start at 10 a.m. Admission is free for all events, though Fred Lamb said there will be a silent auction, raffle drawings and giveaways to raise money for the museum’s completion. He expects 400 attendees over the weekend.
“We had an excellent turnout Wednesday for our donors-only reception with almost 200 people coming through,” Lamb said. “We hope that the activities will bring a lot more people from outside of McDonald County this weekend.”
Fred Lamb said the work has been worth the time invested.
“I think I am working harder now as a retiree,” Lamb said. “This is our legacy now for the county.”
For the grand opening, the first floor of the courthouse will be open to the public with three main displays detailing the family histories of McDonald County residents, the Pineville-based filming of the 1939 movie “Jesse James” and a room dedicated to the servicemen of McDonald County from World War II and the Korean War. Lamb said the displays will rotate monthly, though there will be some items that will stay as permanent fixtures.
“We want to keep everything fresh and we have limited space for now,” Lamb said. “We will eventually make our way upstairs to the old courtroom in the remodeling process, but it is going to be one room at a time for now.”
The Memorial Day opening is what encouraged Jean Stratton-Bird to come back to Pineville from her home in Novato, Calif. The 86-year-old had dedicated many years to researching her brother’s military service in addition to that of her husband, Grant. Most of that work now is displayed inside the courthouse. She hopes that her work will inspire others to tell their own family’s history.
“I finally got to see this all on display and I felt that both my family and the other servicemen are honored in the way they should be,” Stratton-Bird said. “This is how we learn where we came from. It is our legacy.”