Source: The Paper, March 9, 2011


This month (March 2011) the North Manchester Center for History will be celebrating its 10th year in the former Oppenheim building. We are proud to announce that during this 10-year period our collection has increased from 2,200 items to nearly 23,000 documents, artifacts and local historical treasures. This article highlights the humble beginnings of the collection and some of the people that made it possible.

As early as the late 1960s, articles of historic worth were stored on the third floor of the city hall building. Though not organized in a formal display, these items were available for public viewing on a limited basis. At some point the items needed to be moved and were stored above the Wible Shoe Store (Burge Building) on Main Street, site of the current AT&T wireless store. By 1972, the North Manchester Historical Society organized under the able leadership of Max and Sally Allen. Items of historical interest continued to be collected by this group and by the sesquicentennial year collections were very active and publicly solicited. In 1984, with the growing number of items, an organized method of logging accessions was adopted. In 1990, two former classrooms in the Town Life Center (formerly Thomas Marshall School) were rented by the Historical Society to once again display and store the artifacts. Max and Grace Kester supervised the creation of attractive educational displays. Rosemary Manifold and Catherin Smith were in charge of accessions for many years, and the collection continued to grow with the addition of donations from the general public. This are of the Town Life Center was given the name, North Manchester Historical Society Museum. Phil Orpurt became quite active as curator of this museum and spent many long hours collecting, recording, displaying an preserving items for future generations to enjoy.

With a need to vacate to Town Life Center classrooms and the growing pains of available space, an advisory committee of the historical society was formed consisting of David Grandstaff, Emerson Niswander, Jim Adams, Steve Batzka, Shirley Mishler, Dick Miller, Mary Chrastil, Steve Hammer, Ferne Baldwin and Ralph Naragon. This committee focused on finding a new home for the museum. While their meetings and fact-finding progressed, the Oppenheim Store came up for sale. The Oppenheim Store, a staple in North Manchester for 125 years, began in 1875 with Jacob Oppenheim opening the Oppenheim New York Cheap Store.

In 2000, negotiations began and progressed to the purchase of the site in December 2000; the collection was moved in 2001. Emerson Niswander helped secure Oppenheim store artifacts for the collection during the auction when the store was liquidated. Countless volunteer hours and hired contractors began to prepare the Oppenheim building for housing the 2200 items that had been collected. A specially chosen Museum Committee consisting of former advisory committee members, Mary Chrastil, Steve Hammer, David Grandstaff, Ralph Naragon, and with the addition of Arthur Gilbert, Phil Orpurt, Bonnie Ingraham, Tim Taylor and Robin Lahman began to steer the museum into the 21st century.

Jeanne Andersen served as Director as collection information was transferred to professional museum software and labeled using standard museum techniques. Key volunteers were Bernice Ford, Eunice Butterbaugh, Joyce Joy, Debbie Chinworth, Carolyn Leffel, Ann Curtis, Evelyn Niswander and Ferne Baldwin. Window displays were established, several special temporary exhibits were presented, and planning was done for permanent exhibits. Under the leadership of Bill Eberly, in 2007 the Center for History established regular hours when the public could view exhibits. At that time, Nancy Reed became Director. The full circle had been made, as Nancy had been instrumental in storing and exhibiting the small collection housed in the City Hall building so many years before.

Several "mini" collections have been key additions to the overall collection. Ferne Baldwin and Bill Eberly were influential in obtaining items that had been stored at Manchester College or were in the College Museum. The Harold and Eleanor Miller family donated over 1,200 farm related artifacts collected over four generations. And the family of Pat and Phil Oppenheim recently donated over 600 items from that family.

Today, in 2011 we celebrate the goal of paying off the mortgage on the museum. On March 26, the Historical Society will host a reception, behind-the-scenes tours of our building and extensive collection, and a mortgage burning. The Board of Directors of the North Manchester Historical Society feel the museum is an attractive new asset for Main Street and an important step for the society and the town of North Manchester. We are pleased that the community trusts that the Historical Society will take good care of its memories and artifacts, as demonstrated in the rapid growth of our collection.

To donate items for consideration, contact Joyce Joy, curator, at 982-0672. You can also visit us at 120 E. Main St., North Manchester; or at

Submitted by Mary Chrastil, President, North Manchester Historical Society.