EAST PRAIRIE - Thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant, the Historical Museum of Mississippi County will soon have a new home.
"We're buying a building that is just across the street from the building the museum is in now," said Kathie Simpkins, city administrator for East Prairie.
In March, the city's engineer wrote a letter advising the museum's former building had become unsafe. "Some of the brick was falling off the front," Simpkins recalled.
The museum was closed and all the display items were moved to storage.
"Immediately after that we sought money for a better building," Simpkins recalled. "We applied I think in April or May."
"We were notified in August that we were approved for the grant and then we received our letter of conditions in September," she continued.
Fortunately for the city, "everything kind of happened really quickly," Simpkins said. "We're currently without a museum until this project is completed."
USDA officials presented a mock check Friday, and city officials hope to receive the money and be able to close on the purchase of the new building by Nov. 15. "We're in the process of doing the paperwork now," Simpkins said. "We'll be purchasing the former Fred's building downtown at 221 East Main. It's a much larger building - we're actually going to do two things with it."
The front part of the building will be used to create a bigger, better museum. "They have more items to display then they had space to display in the previous facility," Simpkins said. "It will also be handicapped accessible which the old building was not."
While the front of the new building will house mementoes from the past, the building's back section will be used to build for the future.
"In the rear portion of the building we are going to be making a construction skills workshop," Simpkins said.
The construction skills workshop, Simpkins explained, uses offenders from the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston that are getting ready to be released to build homes while teaching them construction skills.
The homes are built according to USDA guidelines. "Once those houses are completed, then we actually sell those homes to somebody that is qualified for a Rural Development loan," Simpkins said. "We've built two houses already. The first house was sold and the second house is under contract."
The program has just started construction on a third house as well.
"A lot of the walls, the doors, the framing they build inside this workshop, then they transport it out to the site and put it up," Simpkins said, which allows them to make progress even in inclement weather.
The new building will also include a storage area between the two facilities.
"The total project cost is estimated to be $94,000," Simpkins said.
USDA Rural Development provided a $51,706 grant toward the renovation project. About $22,000 in cash will come from the city and local donors.
"The rest of it will be in-kind labor and equipment," she said, "so the city plans on doing almost all the construction work ourselves using our workers."
Renovations for both parts of the building should begin "hopefully later on this winter - by mid December hopefully or sooner," Simpkins said. "It will all be done kind of at the same time. Since almost all the work is inside, the weather won't really affect us."
This won't be the first time the museum has moved. "It was originally behind Union Planter bank on Lincoln Street," said Jack Emory of East Prairie, who has been an active part of the museum along with his wife, Ann. "I've been working on it for 10 years or more."
"When DAEOC moved out of the old City Hall on Main Street, we moved the museum over to that and stayed there until the city decided the building was unsafe," he recalled.
Simpkins said the best part of keeping the museum open by moving to yet another location is "being able to preserve history for the future generations."