AUSTIN — An entire day could easily be spent wandering through the E.O. Austin Historical Society, learning about different historical artifacts and eras of Austin’s history.
The two story, 1,700-plus square foot museum explores the history of the 1911 Austin Flood, health care, logging and farming, military and more just within Austin and surrounding areas.
The building is named for Edward Orramel “E.O” Austin, who founded Austin. The building that the museum is in is a replica of his house in the 1800s; the original home that he built was swept away in the flood of 1911.
Ron Ebbert, president of the historical society, said he’s not a museum curator, but that he’s been to a lot of museums and knew what he liked and didn’t like about them. He wanted each room to be its own display.
One room is set up as an old one room schoolhouse. It has maps, blackboards, school benches and more. Hanging on the walls are pictures of the eight one room schoolhouses in and around the Austin area. Some of the school houses are still standing today and are now used as hunting camps.
Another area contains artifacts that people found in their backyards or that the historical society members found while digging up the foundation of where the museum sits today. One of the most interesting things found on the foundation, Ebbert said, are two shoes: an adult sized shoe and a kid sized shoe.
“I started to think, there was a shoemaker on Turner Street. His whole family was killed in the flood. When the water came, he ran up Turner Street to tell his family, but it was too late. Those (shoes), I’m positive came from his shop,” Ebbert said.
Even things like the staircase came from an old house in Austin. Hanging along the steps is artwork done by local artists.
The Flood of 1911 is a pretty famous event that happened in Austin, it killed almost 80 people and caused millions of dollars of damage to the town. Of course, newspapers all around the world reported on it. There are several binders in the museum that contain newspaper clippings and research on the Austin Flood, compiled by Gale Largey.
Continuing with artifacts from the flood, the museum has the original whistle that was blown when the dam broke.
“We had the 100 year anniversary of the flood, we took it down back and hooked it up to an air compressor and we blew it,” Ebbert said.
After the flood destroyed the town, Ebbert said the person who built the dam wanted to apologize to the town for the dam breaking.
“So he started construction on this community building,” Ebbert said. It was built in 1920 and there were two bowling lanes and even a full sized theater.
“I mean, it was like the consistory of this time, it was fantastic. Everything that went on, went on in the community building,” he said. A whole display is set up of things that were inside the community building.
The building was torn down in 1971 because it couldn’t be taken care of; everyone was worried it was going to catch on fire, Ebbert said.
Instruments that people played in the town band are on display, and some of the instruments have corresponding pictures that show who played it. Some band uniforms are also on display. Even pillars from the band stand are in the museum.
Marie Kathern Brisbois Nuschke (1892-1967) is known as “Austin’s greatest author.” A bedroom is dedicated to her and contains artifacts such as her parents’ marriage certificate, a flax wheel, furniture, her wedding shoes, hats, her rocking chair, one of her baby shoes, and frames sections of wallpaper from her home on Costello Ave.
Also in her room is a family photo.
“It hung in the Nuschke home for years,” Ebbert said. A family member of Marie’s told Ebbert that she wanted to give him the framed photo.
“I said, ‘Well, don’t you want the family picture?’” he recalled.
Turns out, the family didn’t even know who the people in the picture were.
“Marie Nuschke and her husband went to Buffalo. At that time, everybody had family pictures like this in their house, but they didn’t have one,” Ebbert said. “They saw the picture for sale at a store, they bought it and brought it home and hung it in their house.”
Ebbert said people would always comment on how much Marie looked like the woman in the picture.