A new local history book is meant to be more like a scavenger hunt than a dry rehashing of what came before.
“A Self-Guided Tour of Historic Clay County, Missouri Volume One: 1800-1850” is designed to become an interactive experience, literally leading readers down back roads to places undiscovered in their own backyards. Clay County Museum and Historical Society President Chery Holtman says writing it even provided new discoveries for the long-time history buffs who put it together.
“We had such a good time putting this together,” Holtman said. “We are two months ahead of schedule.”
The book idea was hatched when museum volunteers tired of doing the historic homes tour they had hosted as a fundraiser every year since the 1970s. After so many years, and other non-profits also creating homes tours in the area, they decided to try a break from rehashing the same thing.
“My house was on it for three years running, and that’s too much,” Holtman said.
Holtman was organizing the museum’s paperwork and came across one past homes tour which included a drive-by house.
She got to thinking that a do-it-yourself homes tour could have the benefit of allowing people to do the tour any time. It would also allow the tour to expand out of Liberty — something that had been a limitation.
“This is the Clay County museum,” Holtman said. “One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is to include the entire county, not just be in Liberty.”
Tony Meyers agreed to head up the project. They divided up the county’s seven townships and went digging.
“Rather than just being four to five homes in Liberty, we thought, ‘Let’s take 40 to 50 homes, and let’s not just do homes, but also historic sites and include sites that don’t even exist anymore,’” Meyers said.
At first the committee thought it might just be putting together a brochure, but it morphed into a book — in volumes — after the volunteers came up with so many ideas.
The first volume, which is currently available, covers 48 homes and sites linked to the era between 1800 and 1850.
Some places, like the Liberty Arsenal or Elm Grove near Smithville, do not exist anymore. The book includes pictures, a brief history of the location, and a map for how to get to where the site did exist.
Explorers also can pop the included CD into their car’s stereo and play audio clips about the history of the site when they arrive.
Most of the sites are currently private property, so it is intended to be a drive-by only tour. However, some, like Trist Falls or Watkins Woolen Mill, are open to the public.
A couple of the homes have been moved to the Shoal Creek Living History Museum at Hodge Park. The book gives directions on how to find the original locations of the buildings.
“We didn’t want to rule anything out because it didn’t exist anymore,” Meyers said. “We wanted it to be a resource to capture those places and record what happened there.”
Right now, there is only one mandatory stop for the homes tour — the Clay County Museum. It is the only place where the book and CD is available for purchase, and it also might be a bit of a hunt for some people.
“We do not sell our books online, because we want to get people to walk through the front door,” Holtman said. “This is a well-kept secret. People don’t know we are here. We want to get people in here. We have so much to offer.”
The Clay County Museum is hidden in plain sight on the Historic Downtown Liberty Square at 14 N. Main Street across from the Historic Clay County Courthouse.
The book and CD costs $25. To check museum hours and for upcoming events at the museum, you can visit them online at www.claycountymuseum.org.