There once were two men named Charles. One, Mr. Charles Parr, was from Charles City, Iowa. He went off to college in Madison, Wisconsin, where he met Mr. Charles Hart. Together they built a gasoline combustion engine, gathered some funds, and created the Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Company. Unfortunately, Madison investors couldn’t see the Charles’ vision. Fortunately, a Charles City investor could. Local attorney Charles Ellis (yes, another Charles) invested $50,000, and the first two Charles brought their dream to Charles City and the Hart-Parr Company was born. They built the first gasoline-powered traction engine in 1902 and the rest, as they say, is history.
History is what the Floyd County Historical Museum is all about. The tractor – a word invented by Hart-Parr in the early 1900’s – is a big part of that history, so it makes sense that the museum has a large collection. A cavernous addition to the museum’s building is filled with Hart-Parr’s, Oliver’s, and White’s, as well as a turn of the century Cretor’s popcorn wagon. The wagon had been in use for many years, and museum director Mary Ann Townsend told us how she’d be inside for hours serving popcorn at fairs and special events.
The tractor collection is impressive, but that’s only the beginning of the Floyd County Historical Museum’s archives, memorabilia, and miscellany. It’s a treasure trove of not just Charles City’s past, but the Midwest’s.
Just around the corner from the tractors is a collection of over 50,000 artifacts that were donated by residents of Floyd County. Most of them document the century between 1850 and 1950, and there are items as diverse as the state rock, dioramas of Native American life, and an iron lung.
For a glimpse into pioneer life, there’s a log cabin and wagon that showcases what a home would have been like for a family in the mid-1800’s. It’s filled with items that a family would have used in daily life.
The real show-stopper, though, is the Legel Drug Store. When John Legel retired he donated the entire contents of his store to the Floyd County Historical Society, and it’s now available for everyone to see. This is truly like stepping back in time to an apothecary in the 19th century.
You can imagine the pharmacist behind the counter consulting a lady about her child’s persistent cough. Most of the bottles are still filled with their original contents, but not all. Mary Ann told us that some of them had to be removed by the authorities because they contained drugs like opium and cocaine! The contents were emptied and the bottles were returned, and there on the shelves they sit.
The museum is housed in the former Dr. Salsbury’s Laboratories building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Salsbury was a veterinarian who turned his attentions to poultry health, and he was instrumental in the growth of the poultry industry. One of his labs remains, along with several examples of the advertising his company used. They’ve even got a hand-painted advertisement on display.
In addition to all of the above they’ve also got period rooms, including a clothing shop, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, a barbershop and a chapel. The parlor room, wash room, bedroom, kitchen, and little boy’s room present a representation of everyday life in the early 1900’s. It’s fascinating to compare the difference with the cabin downstairs, which was from just fifty years earlier.
You’ll also see a country emporium and county schoolroom with a two-headed pig. If you’re a model railroad enthusiast, the Charles City Model Railroad Club meets every Wednesday evening and you’re invited to join them and ask questions.
There is so much to see at the Floyd County Historical Museum, so make sure you allot a few hours when you visit. In the meantime, visit their website. If you explore the “Tour” section of the site you’ll find audio tours of every exhibit! (LOVE this!)
The Floyd County Historical Museum is located at 500 Gilbert St, Charles City, IA and the phone is 641.228.1099. Admission is just $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 18.
Looking for more things to do in Charles City? Check out our round-up of this surprising town in North Central Iowa.