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Western ND museum brings 100 years to life

The 1909 Little Beaver country school, with all of its desks and learning tools, is displayed as part of the Golden Valley County Museum. Linda Sailer / Forum News Service1 / 4
Judy Ridenhower, Golden Valley County Historical Society board president, holds up the "Dick and Jane" reading series in the Little Beaver School. Linda Sailer / Forum News Service2 / 4
Judy Ridenhower, president of the Golden Valley County Historical Society board of directors, gives a tour of the museum, including a pioneer kitchen. Linda Sailer / Forum News Service3 / 4
Essie Martin, left, and Judy Ridenhower, greet visitors to the Golden Valley County Museum. Linda Sailer / Forum News Service4 / 4

BEACH—The Golden Valley County Museum has many stories to tell when visitors pause to listen, imagine and learn.

Imagine students walking to school with a lunch pail in hand, or the neighborhood women at a quilting bee, or the men threshing oats with horses and steam tractors. Their stories are told through the multiple artifacts left behind.

Anyone who has ever attended a country school will remember the "Dick and Jane" primary readers, the desks with an inkwell and the pot-bellied coal stove in the corner.

Judy Ridenhower, the board's president, shares her knowledge with visitors by speaking of her 40 years in teaching at Beach.

"I joined the historical society because I loved history," she said.

The museum was organized as the Golden Valley County Historical Society in 1970. The museum started with purchase of the Chevrolet garage, and accumulation of three additional buildings. By 1976 all the displays were filled and the grand opening was held.

The society's pride and joy is the 1909 Little Beaver School, but retired farmers will appreciate the grain wagon, mower and binder in the machinery building, or the Hart-Parr tractor and Case threshing machine next door.

"The little school was moved in from north and east of Beach," Ridenhower said. "Kathy Wilner, dubbed the "School Lady" documented we had 82 country schools in the county over 100 years."

Ridenhower's older siblings attended country school, but when the family moved into Sentinel Butte, she attended school there.

"We have the school bell, the single and double desks, the old furnace, and all the original books," she said. "In fact, when the fifth grade comes over for a field trip in the spring, we usually have our math lesson there."

Entering the main door of the museum, visitors find vintage dishes lining the display cases.

"We have the heritage boxes—that is where families purchase a box to represent their family," said Ridenhower. "They draw a lot of attention during reunions and get togethers. It's what families valued."

"Then we get into the main room full of clothing and a lot of quilting. We have a church corner that's quite popular because we have organs and paintings from the various churches," she added.

The military room is filled with uniforms—newly cleaned. There's a buggy, a 1929 firetruck and a restored herse that once was used as a chicken coop.

Another favorite room is filled with replicas of the Main Street from long ago in Beach—the barber shop, bank, Dr. Bush's medical office, saddle shop, blacksmith shop and the Bluebird hotel.

The railroad room gives honor to the railroad and to Warren Beach, for whom the city is named.

One corner highlights fossils when the area was swampy and fish swam on top of Sentinel Butte, and the artifacts used by the Native Americans.

She likes to take guests through the museum, especially for the first time. She'll point to the cream separators and tell stories how all the separator discs needed to be washed one at a time.

She helps people go through the county newspapers in search of an obituary, or she'll do it herself upon requests from out of state.

Reviewing the museum space, Ridenhower said it's full.

"We try to rotate some of things we've already been given, but it takes time and a plan," she said.

The museum has made tape recordings of the early settlers, which are being converted into CDs.

"For those who have lost a partner, hearing them speak can be pretty emotional," she said.

Reflecting on the collection, Ridenhower said the staff is still trying to identify everything.

"We need to do a better job of naming things," she said.

Tourists find the museum by the brochures that are kept at the tourist center by the interstate. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It's funded with a quarter mill from the county and by donations. Its open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.