Kearney landmark embraces tuberculosis history
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – There’s a lot more to see at the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture.
A project led by Will Stoutamire restored the historic home on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus, revived its 60-year history as part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis and reinvented the entire attraction by adding new technology and exhibits.
“The goal was to take what has been known locally as a historic home and turn it into a community museum, become a little bit more relevant to the community and become a destination for people coming to Kearney,” said Stoutamire, who took over as director of the museum in September 2014 and started the project a year later.
The results will be unveiled next week during a screening of a new documentary on the house, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and an open house at the museum.
Stoutamire worked with UNK students and local contractors to rehabilitate the 128-year-old structure, and the first floor, which showcases the home as it looked in the early 1890s, was “completely reinterpreted.”
Architect George William Frank Jr. designed the house – one of the earliest in the Great Plains with electricity – as a gift for his parents, George Sr. and Phoebe Frank. It was an extravagant home for the era, featuring a pink Colorado sandstone exterior, several fireplaces made with imported tile, handcarved oak woodwork and a large stained-glass window.
From 1912 until 1972, the property was owned by the state as part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis.
That era is now represented on the museum’s second and third floors, and a permanent exhibit on the hospital was added to the second floor.
Stoutamire and UNK students conducted new research on the state hospital and collected oral histories from former employees and others impacted by the facility. Among the artifacts on display are physician’s tools, the door from the medical waste incinerator, leatherwork created by a patient during his stay there and a newsletter produced by patients.
Another permanent display added to the second floor showcases a collection of decorative arts donated to UNK by the late Philip and Mildred Strain of Kearney. The collection includes more than 100 glass and porcelain pieces from Europe and the United States, plus furniture, dating from roughly 1740 to the early 1900s.
“It’s a fairly significant collection, the largest we’re aware of in this region,” said Stoutamire, adding that the Franks owned similar pieces during their time at the house.
The final piece of the second-floor overhaul is a Discovery Room where children can explore history through hands-on activities.
For the first time ever, the third floor and basement, which accessed the hospital’s underground tunnel system, will be included on guided tours.
Several touchscreen kiosks located throughout the building and a new app for mobile devices take the historic Frank Museum into the 21st century. That technology provides more information about the home, hospital and Kearney, including video clips, images of artifacts that are too fragile to display and an interactive scavenger hunt.
The documentary “Stone Mansion on the Prairie” will be screened 7 p.m. April 12 at the Merryman Performing Arts Center, 225 W. 22nd St. in Kearney, followed by a question-and-answer session with Stoutamire and UNK assistant communication professor Jacob Rosdail.
This documentary, produced by Rosdail, tells the story of the Frank Museum building during two significant periods – as the private home of George Sr. and Phoebe Frank in the late 1890s and as part of the Nebraska State Hospital for Tuberculosis from 1912 until 1972.
The 50-minute film, which includes firsthand accounts from people impacted by the hospital, also follows the museum overhaul.
The event, hosted in partnership with the Buffalo County Historical Society, is free and open to the public.
An open house showcasing the new exhibits and improvements is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. April 14 at the Frank Museum, located at 2010 University Drive on the UNK campus. The touchscreen kiosks, mobile app and Discovery Room will also be debuted.
A performance by the UNK Thornton String Quartet will precede remarks at 1:15 p.m. by Stoutamire, Charles Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at UNK, and other special guests.
Museum tours and light refreshments will be provided throughout the afternoon. This event is also free and open to the public.