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Journey to the past at Paine-Gillam-Scott Museum

September 8, 2009

By Rhonda Westfall

Clinton County’s Historical Museum, the Paine-Gillam-Scott House, is a virtual treasure chest of artifacts and memorabilia that makes history come alive – and it’s located right in our own backyard.

museum

Situated on the west side of the courthouse near downtown St. Johns, the lovely red-brick building has the distinction of being the oldest brick residence in the city. It was built in 1860 by John W. Paine, a native of New York State who opened a general store in 1858 in the fledgling village.

The Museum takes its name from its original owner and two other prominent community leaders who subsequently lived in and expanded the building – Dr. Samuel E. Gillam, and Dr. Walter A. Scott.

It was during Gillam’s ownership from 1883 to 1909 that the house was extensively remodeled into the Victorian style which is evident today.

Remnants of its first owner do remain, however. Restoration work at the building in 1980 reveled the original plank flooring of the 1867 addition and a fireplace which had been closed with brick, plaster and wainscoting.

Those features are prominent elements of the downstairs rooms, each of which is used as a ‘mini-museum’ for a home in 1890. Visitors to the Museum often marvel at the kitchen equipment and utensils – sometimes having a hard time guessing what the various antiques were used for in years long past.

Likewise, the dining room, bedroom, parlor, and ‘laundry room’ provide journeys into lifestyles that no longer exist.

The upstairs rooms are equally unique. They are kept for use of township displays, interpretive and special exhibits, and county historical documents. In honor of the doctors who lived in the house, a ‘turn of the century’ doctors office pays tribute to all doctors of Clinton County.

A highlight of the special exhibits which are currently on display at the Museum is “Greatness Thrust Upon Them.” This history of three presidents commemorates the 200th Anniversary of the death of George Washington, the 190th Anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War.

Of interest to railroad buffs – and with the old Grand Trunk Depot in the public spotlight – an exhibit upstairs is dedicated to railroad memorabilia.

The Paine-Gillam-Scott House is listed in the State Register of Historic Sites, and had the honor of receiving a Michigan Historic Site marker in July 1998 from the Michigan Historical Commission. The work of the Museum is directed entirely by volunteers who serve as the Clinton County Historical Society’s Museum Committee, directors, staff, and members of the P-G-S Advisory Board.

The building and grounds are the property of Clinton County, and are entrusted to the Clinton County Historical Society by the Clinton County Board of Commissioners for use as a county museum. The Museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary at the current site this fall.

The Museum is sustained financially by the generous donations of community residents, primarily through memorials and bequests, and via its Endowment Fund which was established in 1983. All contributions are tax deductible.

Persons may also make donations of historic items and memorabilia. Staff members would be happy to review submissions of Empire and Victorian period furnishings, along with souvenirs, pictures of local people and places, and other items.

Individuals who are interested in serving as volunteers at the Museum during its hours of operation are also invited to contact Director Catherine Rumbaugh, 224-2894, or 224-7402. The Museum is open on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., and Wednesdays from 2 to 7; closed on holidays. Tour groups are welcome by reservation; admittance by donation.

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