By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
FRANKLIN, Kan. —
Southeast Kansas’ newest tourist attraction opened Tuesday afternoon.
An homage to the tens of thousands of miners of the Cherokee-Crawford coalfields, the Miners Hall Museum was established in a town founded by immigrant miners on the site of their union hall.
Now housed in the Franklin Community Center, the site once played a central role in the area’s mining history: The famed Amazon Army march, reported in papers as far away as New York, began there in December 1921. In more recent years, it was the place where people gathered for meetings, family reunions, wedding receptions, dances, funeral dinners and bingo.
Destroyed in the May 4, 2003, tornado that also leveled one-third of the town’s homes and the post office, the community center was rebuilt using Federal Emergency Management funding and a federal grant. For the past year, volunteers have been working there to preserve and display dozens of families’ historical photos, mining tools and household items.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau Director B.J. Harris called it a “big piece of the puzzle” in regional tourism, and Miners Hall board member Craig Stokes predicted that it will draw visitors “from across the U.S.”
“It’s kind of emotional for me, because our anniversary is coming on the tornado, before long, and it shows the spirit of Franklin and how it does still remain,” Stokes said.
Linda Grilz, a Crawford County commissioner and member of the Miners Hall board, fought back tears as she spoke to the crowd.
“When I walked in here last night and I saw pictures of my dad, the car club’s got a sign from my uncle’s garage, my uncle’s jacket, my grandpa’s pants, my grandma and grandpa’s Victrola, I knew this was the right thing to do.
“When you go through this museum, you’re going to see not only the mining story, but you can’t tell the mining story without talking about the miners’ lives and their families. Their story is going to be told as you walk through.”
A year’s worth of themed monthly exhibits are to be featured leading up to May 2013, when the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” comes to town for six weeks and coincides with the town’s 10th anniversary of the tornado.
May’s featured exhibit is related to the transportation industry and is put on by Rollin' Nostalgia Car Club. On display is a restored chassis from a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle, a collection of antique license plates, and an antique Phillips 66 service station boasting gas for 25 cents.
Phillis Bitner, a co-founder of the museum, described the exhibits as thought provoking, educational, entertaining and a key to a deeper understanding of what immigrants experienced as they came to this country seeking a better way of life.
For Nannette Krumsick, it was an emotional trip down memory lane.
“My great-grandparents immigrated here from France and worked in the coal mines in Mulberry-Arcadia and Chicopee,” she said. Her grandfather and father would follow in those footsteps.
“I grew up hearing stories of the mining days,” she said through tears. “This is very touching. It reminds me of my childhood. I just wish my dad could see it.”
Want to go?
Miners Hall Museum is located at 701 S. Broadway (Business Highway 69) in Franklin, Kan. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Details: www.minershallmuseum.com or 620-347-4220