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Coronado Museum

The big guy pointing the way to Coronado Museum from U.S. Highway 54 as you enter Liberal is Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. His image is no gimmick: Coronado and his band of 36 soldiers were the first Europeans to visit what is now Southwest Kansas. They traveled through in 1541, looking for the fabled "Seven Cities of Gold," leaving behind them a legend and a few small items, on display in the local museum that bears Coronado's name.

The statue visible to highway travelers is not as old. In 1979, Coronado's adventure in the New World was honored with the erection of the eight-foot bronze likeness. Coronado's expedition is represented in the museum by a Spanish spur which has been authenticated as belonging to his party.

The Seward County Coronado Museum was established in 1961 through the efforts of four Liberal businessmen - Robert Baughman, Fred Hill, Lewis Eyman and Oliver Brown - aided by Auburn Light and Harry Chrisman.

Housed in a landmark structure originally built in 1918 as the residence of the Lee Larrabee family, the building retains the warmth and style of an early Western home. Oak staircases, paneled walls and floors add an unusual charm to the treasures of the people who settled Seward County, Kansas.

In keeping with its affiliation with the Seward County Historical Society, the museum features items that helped to settle the territory during its Wild West heyday, including an extensive weapons display and a large collection of those things that gave it a more civilized tone, including a beautifully restored ornate antique organ, quilts and home furnishings.

A Western Gallery, with photos of ranch life and frontier settlers, tells the story of the taming of the land. In 1996, the museum opened a western living exhibit, featuring artifacts and a recreation of what Seward County might have been like in its early days. This display was created with the help of Linda WindIer of Topeka, who also made the popular "Land of Oz" exhibit on the museum grounds.

Longtime Liberal resident Don Rash has also helped create an exhibit that pays tribute to the culture of the Native American Indians who inhabited the land long before Coronado or the settlers set foot on the grass.

These exhibits, along with the permanent display titled "Seward County: The First 40 Years" gives visitors a picture of early society in the area.

What: Historical society and museum showing life
in the early days of Seward County.
Where: 567 East Cedar.
Hours: 9am - 5pm Tuesday - Saturday; 1pm - 5pm Sunday.
Phone: (620) 624-7624
Admission: All exhibits free.

The museum has also focused on bringing in traveling exhibits that feature artifacts of other museums and collectors, including quilts and photography.

While the casual visitor might not discover it, the Coronado museum has an extensive collection of antique photographs and papers. At present, the society is working on the establishment of a research and study area, with ample storage room for all the artifacts now inaccessible to the public. This room will be particularly helpful for those with an interest in genealogy.

Joanne Mansell is executive director of the museum, which operates on county funding, private donations and proceeds from the Wizard of Oz/Dorothy's House facility with which it shares its grounds.

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