Blackwell Museum highlights history, big changes, and optimistic future

by Charles Gerian

At Thursday’s meeting of the Blackwell City Council, Top of Oklahoma Museum Director Melissa Hudson gave a booklet to Council members that chronicles several years’ worth of improvements at the museum – and discusses what is in store. Hudson’s presentation began with a history of the museum itself.

The museum building started as the Electric Pavilion, which was one of the first public spaces in the area that was fully lit with the modernity of electricity. The pavilion was Blackwell’s civic center, hosting boxing and other events until the 1950s, when it fell into disrepair.

The City of Blackwell gave the space to the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society in 1972, and it became the Top of Oklahoma Museum. In 1993, the City of Blackwell came to the aide of the still-fledgling museum with major renovations in the form of a bond, which led to new windows and steel beams being installed to reinforce the building’s iconic dome.

In 2021, another major renovation effort stopped leaks that were occurring throughout the 12,000-square-foot space. Other improvements included a 2015 parking lot reconstruction project.

In 2016, the first of several new exhibits opened, such as the “Century of Maroon Sports.”

More than 200 people attended the opening ceremony, including the families of three Blackwell sports icons: the families and descendants of Leo Canaday, Jack Brisco and Dale Pontius. In 2018, the museum opened an art exhibit, which saw submissions from area schools.

Five hundred entries were submitted.

That same year, the Top of Oklahoma Barn Quilt Trail opened, with the museum getting its own quilt on the trail.

While the world was taken in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, that didn’t stop the museum, which opened the expansive 1955 tornado exhibit.

The exhibit was underwritten by the City of Blackwell and aided by the Udall, Kansas, museum. Udall was devastated by the same tornado.

In 2022, the City of Blackwell once again aided the museum with a new concrete patio poured by the street and parks department.

Throughout the year, the museum hosts its annual bean feed and lunch, a land run celebration, Valentine’s dinner, soup lunch in honor of Pearl Harbor, Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations, exhibits at the Kay County Free Fair, quilt displays, bridal dress displays, a Fourth of July exhibit and a Halloween event, among others.

Since 2021, the museum has been undergoing extensive cataloging of its inventory thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

For the last two years, the organization has been working with museum staff to photograph, document, and preserve all of the artifacts and items in the museum.

The museum is undergoing renovations and remodeling, including new flooring in all of the exhibit rooms.

The “Grand Room,” the museum’s largest room on the north side of the building, is set to be redone and redesigned.

As for the years ahead, Hudson’s report noted that the museum aims to repair its Club Room, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

The Club Room provides a source of income for the museum by acting as a moderate-sized rental room for community and private events.

Museum board members include Loren Valentine, Dianne Braden, Pat Hullet, Jaylene Soulek, Stacy and David Cornell, Jim Corbin, Janice Teske, Linda Vowell, Sandy Campos and Shelley Muret.