The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 3, 2012

Miner’s house headed for new home at museum

FRONTENAC, Kan. — The little, white house has had at least three known addresses, and it is about to move again.

Those who are spearheading the effort hope the next location will be its last.

What began on Depot Street as the three-room home of a mining family named Bickerdike — perhaps German or Austrian immigrants — is headed to the Miners Hall Museum in the town of Franklin. The plan is to have it in place by the time a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit comes to the museum next May.

“We thought it would be a good fit; it would be a forever home,” said Veda Maxwell, who is serving her second stint as a leader of volunteers tasked with saving the structure.

In 1976, an estimated 90 years after the house was built, it was moved to Pittsburg to be used as headquarters for the city’s bicentennial celebration. It was dubbed “Camp ’76.”

The house went on to serve as headquarters for a local extermination business. In 2004, its owner donated it to Sacred Heart Parish for use as a museum for artifacts, genealogy and period furnishings.

It was moved on I-beams to its current location, north of Sacred Heart Catholic Church on South Cherokee Street in Frontenac. A committee of volunteers, including Maxwell, took up the reins to preserve it.

But church leadership changed a few times, and the project never developed like people hoped it would. The house still needs exterior work, heating and cooling, and a significant amount of interior work.

“The inside had complete demolition,” Maxwell said. “That’s where it stopped, and that’s where it is today. It’s been locked up ever since.”

An Arma resident, her connection to three-room homes of miners is personal.

“My grandfather, Adolph Vilet, was a coal miner who immigrated from just outside Paris to the Arma area,” Maxwell said. “He worked in the mines until an accident with the mules injured his back. He lived in a three-room house and raised all four of his children in it. One was my dad.”

She also is involved with the development of the Franklin Miners Hall Museum, and she realized that the empty Frontenac miner’s house would be a perfect fit.

When the church gave Maxwell the go-ahead, she contacted the original committee members to gauge response to the idea.

“Of course they were thrilled to death,” she said.

Their plan is to raise enough money in coming weeks to pay for the five-mile move. They still are in search of a moving company.

“It shouldn’t be hard to move, as the I-beams are still in place,” Maxwell said.

It is thought to be one of the last known surviving, standard issue, three-room miner houses in the area.

“What we want to do once it’s placed in back of the museum is renovate it to bring it to the original look,” Maxwell said. “We want to include a chicken coop, an outhouse, a garden with vegetables and then one with flowers of the time period, and even a clothesline. We want it to look authentic.”

Immigrant miners

THE FRANKLIN MINERS HALL MUSEUM, an homage to the tens of thousands of miners in the coal fields of Cherokee and Crawford counties, was established in a town founded by immigrant miners on the site of their union hall.

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