INMAN — Never judge a museum by the size of the town it serves.
The Inman Museum, located at 101 N. Main, is made up of four buildings — the main museum, Rock Island train depot and caboose, 1880s farmhouse and the Central Telephone Office, along with pieces of farming equipment displayed outdoors.
Within the main museum building are rooms that create an entire indoor village square, complete with a well pump and hitching post placed in the center. The building facades were built by curator Ralph Vogel, who used 100-year-old materials from area homes and other buildings to make them look authentic.
"I probably spend as much time tearing down things as reconstructing them," Vogel said.
When Vogel began working at the museum, there were thousands of items needing to be inventoried and organized. During that process, the idea to place objects together as they would have been seen and used over 100 years ago came to him.
"From that, I developed the village square," Vogel said.
Visitors can enter a mercantile, wheelwright shop, barber shop and a one-room schoolhouse, complete with a working bell attached above it.
"A lot of the stuff in here is from the old rural schools. The blackboards are all real slate," Vogel said. "I went to this kind of school, so I built things I remembered."
The museum's high ceilings also allowed Vogel to build a doctor's office above the mercantile.
"It seemed like the thing to do. We had stuff and it needed to be organized," Vogel said.
Perhaps the most historically significant structure in the museum's village square is a smaller version of Bethel Church, which was built of adobe bricks.
"They came over here in 1875, German immigrants from Russia, and built this church," Vogel said. "The women and children made the brick and the men laid them."
The original structure was torn down and Vogel and others saved what they could to keep a portion of the church's walls and furnishings preserved in the museum.
"I checked with the Kansas State Historical Society, and it is the only remaining German Russian adobe church in the 48 states," Vogel noted.
Each of the Inman Museum's display areas is filled with items representing different aspects of the first century in the town's history.
One room in the museum houses a collection of military uniforms and medals, along with a WWII-era bazooka rocket launcher. Another section of shelves holds dozens of toys, games, cameras and models of Inman buildings. Other spaces are arranged to resemble a doctor's office, dressmaker's shop and dentist office. Memorabilia from the schools in Inman are on display, as is an exhibit of Kansas State Fair memorabilia.
"A museum is a history book. The nice thing about this museum is that it is local. There's not much here that isn't from Inman or nearby," Vogel said.
Some items, such as working models of farm equipment were created by Inman residents, while others, like a wooden rocking chair, were brought over by the Russian immigrants who settled in the area.
"It just keeps coming in," Vogel laughed.
Vogel and others have restored many of the items that are donated to the museum.
"Since 2005 or 2006, I've been here almost full time," Vogel said. "I restore almost everything."
Next to a White Eagle filling station sign is a 1914 Ford car, which sits at the head of a hall lined with buggies, wagons and a surrey. Exhibits of musical instruments, farming tools and household items are also displayed there.
"There is a license plate here for McPherson County from the first year they were ever issued. 1913 was the first one," Vogel said.
There is also one special section of the museum dedicated to a black cat named Sam.
"Everybody knew about Sam. Sam was the unofficial mayor of Inman," Vogel explained. "At night, Sam would sleep in the window of Jim's Appliance Store and people would come to town to see him. He was a very popular cat — a beautiful cat."
The Inman museum is supported through donations and fundraisers.
"It's just the goodness of people and a lot of the work we do ourselves," Vogel said.
The museum recently held an ice cream social, which raised $2,000. That money is appreciated, but more is needed to cover the construction costs for a new addition that will resemble a working barn, Vogel said.
Preserving the town's history for years to come is important to Vogel.
"History is like a rudder on a sailing ship. It's behind you, it's out of sight, but try to find a direction without it," Vogel said.
When museum visitors say they want to come back and bring others with them, Vogel knows his time has been well spent.
"It's worth going through. It's an open history book," Vogel said. "Be prepared to spend some time, because there's a lot to see."
The Inman Museum is open on Sundays from 1:30 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. Admission to the museum is free, though donations are accepted. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 620-585-6659 or visit http://www.inmanmuseum.com.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.