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Minden's 'Pioneer Village' looking to return to former glory

Posted at 7:52 AM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 08:56:45-04

MINDEN, Neb. (KMTV) — When you drive through Minden, you really can’t miss it.

Pioneer Village has been sitting on the north end of Minden since 1953 when its founder Harold Warp moved an old country schoolhouse and countless other items to one location.

“There’s everything here,” said Larry Wilcox, President of the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Foundation.

The village includes over 50,000 items in 26 buildings, with a focus on pieces from 1830 to the present, showing American innovation throughout the industrial revolution to the present day.

“There are pieces here on display that will blow people away,” said Marshall Nelson, General Manager of Pioneer Village.

With the items sectioned off and then displayed in chronological order...

“You can start with the hand cart and end up with the corvette,” said Nelson.

The museum has an impressive showcase of old buildings like schools, fire halls and general stores. Plus planes, trains, wagons, and cars, including a one-of-a-kind 1905 Buick.

“It is the oldest existing Buick in the world,” said Nelson.

But as time has gone on attendance has dropped, money has dried up.

“We’ve had a few pretty tough years,” said Nelson.

But with a new board running the museum foundation, there's a plan to revitalize Pioneer Village, like freshen up the first thing people see — the signs outside.

“First impressions are very important,” said Wilcox.

Efforts to paint some of the buildings have already started, and with so many roofs in disrepair, the hope is to solidify those as well.

Along with basic repairs and renovations, the board is also looking at a variety of other ideas that haven’t been finalized.

But one item definitely on the list, an old-time carousel.

“I grew up hearing that merry-go-round whistle going all the time, every Sunday,” said Al Lux, member of the foundation board.

The carousel, which is clearly no longer in its heyday, may be the most visual representation of the museum’s decay. While it may take a bit, the plan is for the horses to run again.

“It needs help, it’s kind of an eye-catcher and that’s what I feel is one of the neatest things here,” said Wilcox.

Pioneer Village and the city of Minden have a clear and close connection.

“The Pioneer Village and the city of Minden are basically joined,” said Nelson.

Folks born and raised in the central Nebraska town have plenty of fond memories of the museum, so when word got out that the museum was looking for money, there were plenty that said they’d help out.

“I’ve got classmates and other people calling or emailing, wanting to make donations to help out,” said Lux.

While plenty of others in town are giving their time.

“We had one teacher say I think I can get 40 children out here to help you out to do some work,” said Wilcox.

Museum leaders are taking an ‘if we renovate it, they will come’ approach, hoping that restoring the museum to its original state, with maybe some modern amenities, can bring back visitors to the sleepy Nebraska town.

“The folks that buy the gas, the folks that buy the groceries, the folks that go eat in the restaurants. All those dollars go to help support the community,” said Nelson.

All in the hopes of restoring the museum the town takes so much pride in to its former glory.

“Hopefully we can bring this back like it was in 1960,” said Lux.

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