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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Sharing local history: Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum preserves community

Braden Benson
Gerald Richardson

From Miss Mississippi pageant gowns to photographs of Old Main, the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum gives Starkvillians and Mississippi State University students a journey through history of Oktibbeha County.

Located at 206 Fellowship St., near the intersection of Fellowship Street and Russell Street, the museum showcases relics from the community’s past and also displays mementos from recent years, including a sports exhibit added in October 2013. The blend of past and present lining the museum’s displays can appeal to young and old alike. 

The museum features exhibits that include donations from citizens and sources around the Starkville area. The museum also periodically holds events that commemorate local history. Recently, on Jan. 22, a program was held to remember MSU’s Old Main dormitory that burned down in 1959.

Shirley Carley, volunteer docent at the museum, said volunteers within the community spearhead the exhibits and upkeep of the museum. 

“The museum has a board of trustees, and apart from that, there is a group known as the ‘friends of the museum’ made up of several generous volunteers,” she said. “They help out with events that are held here as well as fundraisers for the museum. These people are just dedicated, and I think it makes for a wonderful museum.”

A devoted group of volunteers keeps the museum open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and visitors can also arrange appointments by telephone.

Carley said the museum’s interactive exhibitions draw groups that range from visitors from around the state to wedding parties that come visit the museum.

“We get all different types of people coming in here to look around,” she said. “From people who have grown up in the city looking to see Starkville’s history, to school groups, scout groups, family reunions and even weddings, the museum receives a diverse group of visitors. There are a lot of interactive exhibits which children especially have fun with.”

Carley said after she retired from writing for the Starkville Daily News she needed to look for new ways to occupy her increased free time, and she said the museum provided the niche she sought.

“I volunteer here the first Tuesday of every month, and I have just always had a love for history,” she said. “After I stopped writing for the Starkville Daily News, I wanted to find a way to give back to the community as well as a way to spend my time involved in something as worthwhile as the museum.”

Carley also said the museum plays an important role as the community’s archivist.

“The museum is really a treasure because it preserves the community’s history, and history is all too often lost because of the repository factor accompanied with it,” she said.

 Joan Wilson, a long-time museum volunteer, said her time with the museum has been rewarding, as she gets to preserve Oktibbeha County history while also giving it back to the community.

“I have probably been with the museum for over eight years. It has been so long that I can’t remember the exact time, but there is definitely an aspect of fulfillment volunteering here,” she said. “We are helping conserve history for the local area, and we are able to share that history with everyone.”

Wilson was a part of the team that helmed the interior and exterior transformation of the museum, and she said the renovations and additions, which began through the MSU School of Architecture, have given the museum new life.

“Dr. David Lewis, an MSU School of Architecture professor, was the first to get students from his design and architecture classes to catalog each item in the museum, and then they renovated two of the interior rooms. It all took off after that,” she said. “More recently, MSU’s landscape architecture department transformed the museum into a sustainable building. We are really fortunate for the connection to Mississippi State.”

Julie Johnson, junior English major, said she has heard nothing but good things about the museum and believes that even cities as small as Starkville deserve a museum to celebrate its history.

“When I think of a museum, the first thing that comes to mind is one of those huge metropolitan museums, but I think it’s great that a city as small as Starkville has a place to showcase its roots,” she said.

Although donations are welcomed, visiting the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum is free of charge and paves the way for Starkvillians and MSU students to celebrate the history of a place that may serve as home for four years or a lifetime.  

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Sharing local history: Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum preserves community