Colfax historians have a favor to ask: don’t throw that away yet!

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The people who are working to preserve Colfax history have a favor to ask.

If you are cleaning out drawers or closets or attics or are going through the belongings of a loved one and come across something related to Colfax history, would you please consider asking one of them if it might be something that should be added to the collection before you throw it away or donate it to Goodwill?

“I would rather see it and be asked about it than to hear about it after the fact, and now it’s at Hope Gospel Mission or in the landfill,” said Colfax resident Troy Knutson, who has been working for 20 years to collect Colfax memorabilia.

“All donations of artifacts are welcome and greatly appreciated, particularly those with a connection to Colfax and the surrounding area’s history,” said Susan Hill, a member of the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group and curator of the Colfax History Room in the Colfax Municipal Building. 

“Anything that might be associated with people’s memories of Colfax, things you remember when you were a kid,” Knutson said.

“If they are going to get rid of something, ask someone from the restoration group if it would be anything anybody would be interested in,” said Colfax resident Mona Thorson, also a member of the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group.

“Books, pictures, uniforms. Anything that says ‘Colfax’ on it. Anything that has to do with the municipal building — or anything involved with the village,” she said.

In years past, the Colfax Municipal Building basement was the site of many activities and programs for a wide variety of groups, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H groups, church groups, the The Dunn County Barbershoppers and the Colfax Merry Mixers. 

Any printed programs or materials related to those kinds of activities, or pictures, would be a welcome addition to the collection, Thorson said

“Don’t think that it would not be something anybody would be interested in. And we would take really good care of it,” she said.

Restoration group

CMBRG started in 1998 to raise funds and to work on preserving and restoring the Colfax Municipal Building, which was built in 1915-1916. 

To date, the restoration group has raised and contributed well over $100,000 to renovate the building, and as a result, after being boarded up for more than 20 years, the municipal building auditorium is once again available for public use and has become what some have described as “the jewel of Colfax.”

According to the CMBRG website, “The Group has paid for the restoration of the main hallway of the building, replacement of the front steps, replacement of windows and numerous other projects. The most expensive project paid for by the Group was the replacement of the entire electrical system in the building. The cost of this project has pretty well depleted our funds. A grant received by the Village paid for the replacement of most of the windows in the building which has brightened up the theater area immensely. The Group recently had the theater ceiling repaired and the walls and ceiling painted. The stage curtains were cleaned and restrung. The Group also has had the old paneling removed in the ticket room, has repaired the plaster and painted that room as well as the refinishing of the floor. The old ticket room is now used as our Colfax History Room. We are very proud of the difference these projects have made in the appearance of the Cozy Theatre area.”

The Cozy Theatre operated for many years, showing a wide-variety of movies to audiences that included Colfax residents and people from the area surrounding Colfax.

The Colfax Commercial Club has invested in a movie screen and sound equipment to once again show movies in the renovated auditorium.

Stretcher-Fetchers

As an example of the kinds of items that Knutson, Hill and Thorson would be interested in, some years back, there was an all-star basketball team that came to Colfax to play the Stretcher-Fetchers — that is, the people who were members of the Colfax Rescue Squad.

Knutson explained that Pam Mousel, Marlene Johnson’s daughter, had found cancelled checks from the Stretcher-Fetchers basketball game. 

Johnson was a founding member of the Colfax Rescue Squad.

“She had cancelled checks from (the event) and a program,” Knutson said. 

“Things like that. I really am not 100 percent sure how to explain it. Anything that might be connected to Colfax history,” he said.

Knutson and Hill agreed military uniforms are important for the historical record.

“It’s hard to explain. My idea of importance is going to be different than your idea of what is significant. But any military items or uniforms, anything that belonged to those prominent businessmen,” Knutson said, adding that American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary uniforms also would be welcome.

“Right now we do have a good collection of WWII military uniforms, including those from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines,” Hill said.

The uniforms are on display in the Colfax History Room.

“We have several ‘Eisenhower’ jackets, an American Legion uniform and a Desert Storm uniform on temporary loan. What we really need is a WWI uniform to round out our collection,” Hill said.  

Thermos to Flyer

Other items that might seem less obvious are welcome too.

“I have Mike Hansen’s little thermos container Jeannette made for him for his fishing trips,” Knutson said.

Area residents “of a certain age” will remember Mike Hansen as the Fuller Brush salesmen who traveled from house to house. Hansen also served on the Colfax Village Board.

“I have Micky Glasier’s Green Thumb hat. I have Micky Glasier’s American Legion uniform. I have the ash tray from the Coast-to-Coast store that sat on the counter for however many years,” Knutson said.

Some readers of the Messenger will remember the Coast-to-Coast store located in what is now Toli’s Arms and the United States Post Office. 

“I have the Carnival glass candy dish from the Coast-to-Coast store that sat on the counter, too. The items I have are not big items but they are important to Colfax. Think about the things around Colfax that were important to you as a kid,” Knutson said.

Surprisingly enough — or maybe not so surprising, knowing Knutson’s intense interest in Colfax history — he also has what is called “The Flyer,” the overhead change exchanger from the Colfax Farmers’ Store.

Some Messenger readers will remember The Flyer and the sound of the small container traveling along a cable to bring change from the upstairs office to the counter below. 

Hill says that any “prehistoric” items and Native American artifacts also would be wonderful additions for the display in the Colfax History Room.

“I remember reading about a fish fossil found in the hills north of Colfax in the 1950s or 1960s. Does anyone know where that is now?” Hill asked.

Another segment of Colfax history involves the local creamery.

During the 1930s, the Colfax Cooperative Creamery produced sheets of “Casin” (casein is the main protein in milk), which was an early milk-based plastic used in making buttons for clothing, Hill said.

“If anyone has any information on this, please let me know,” she said. 

Knutson says he is interested in “business give-away” items as well that are important to Colfax history  — pens, pencils, magnets, rulers, matchbooks, calendars.

History room

The collection of Colfax memorabilia in the Colfax History Room began with the attempt to organize the Colfax Historical Society in the mid-1980s, Hill said. 

At that time, Millie Hilson, Hill and several others started putting history displays in the window of what is now the Cafe II Coffee Shop and Bakery in the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall. 

“Local folks started donating articles for future displays and hopefully a small museum someday,” Hill said.

When CMBRG was organized, Hill said she gladly joined with her main interest being to preserve Colfax’s local history and to have a place to house and display items.

The Colfax History Room was set up, with the help of Knutson and Mona and Gary Thorson, in what was formerly the police evidence room and actually was the original theater ticket sales booth for the movies shown in the Colfax Municipal Building auditorium, Hill noted.

When Joan Scharlau was president of CMBRG, the group obtained a grant, and the room was completely remodeled, the floor refinished, windows refitted and the walls and woodwork were redone, Hill said.

Much of the work was completed by Colfax resident Scott Housenga.

“Everything was put back in place, and new displays were added. When Marion Scott was group president, new lighting and a ceiling fan were installed,” Hill said. 

The Colfax History Room currently is full of displayed items and is becoming too small, she said.

CMBRG may, in the future, expand the display area into other parts of the building, Hill said.

If the history room does expand, the plans would include a display area of “home life” in earlier times with a kitchen, living room and bedroom, she said.

Speciality items

Knutson said he knows that sometimes people think, “who would ever want this?” but it is exactly those types of items that Knutson says he and the other people working to preserve Colfax history would like to evaluate for their importance. 

“Don’t assume that we already have this yardstick. Even if we do already have it, I would save it to preserve it and to trade for other items. I have a whole drawerful of duplicates,” Knutson said.

“I understand some things may be personal, family items that people want to keep and pass down to their children or grandchildren. But if it is something you do not want or your family members do not want and you are thinking about discarding it, please ask one of us,” Knutson said.

“I would love more (Colfax business) signs,” he added.

Some of the items Knutson has collected include cuckoo clocks owned by Bruce Vincent and LucyPat Glasier.  He also has Eldora Sipple’s bread box. 

“I am sure it housed many donuts,” he noted of the bread box.

And he has Marshall Whitted’s top hat and vest from the Colfax Centennial in 1964, Leon Dunbar’s top hat from the Centennial, and Merlin Jackson’s garrison military hat. 

Jackson, who passed away recently, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Knutson also has the first 35mm camera from the Colfax Messenger office as well as Leon Snyder’s panoramic camera. 

Snyder was a local photographer who documented much of Colfax’s earlier history.

Knutson has Ed Johnson’s 25 years of service Viking statue from the Colfax School District as well and  Marlin Raveling’s press passes for sporting events. 

Raveling served as the Messenger’s news editor for many years and whose passion for local sports was well known.

Colfax High School yearbooks are another item of interest.

“I think I have all of them now, but there are some yearbooks the school does not have,” Knutson said.

Photographs are welcome too, and Knutson said he would be perfectly happy with copies of the photographs if the owners prefer to keep the originals.

“Those items are out there. It’s a matter of locating them,” Knutson said, adding that he realizes some items go to children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, Knutson’s fear is that “after a generation or two, no one realizes what the item is or why it’s important or why they have it and it ends up thrown away or given away.”

“I don’t expect to get any of this for free. I don’t expect it to be a donation,” Knutson noted. “If someone has something they want to sell me, I will gladly pay them for it.”

In the end, Knutson, Hill and Thorson all have one goal in mind: to preserve as much Colfax history as possible, in whatever form it exists.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone, and we can’t get it back,” Knutson said. 

If anyone has items that may be of local historical interest, you can contact Knutson, Hill or Thorson. They are all listed in the local telephone book. Or call the Colfax Messenger at (715) 962-3535.