Water/Ways set to impress in Valmeyer

A concert held Sunday at Valmeyer High School served as an unofficial opening to the six-week “Water/Ways” exhibit presentation. Pictured, the Valmeyer High School Chorus sang “Music in the Water,” “Where Go the Boats” and “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy.” (Sean McGowan photo)

A concert held Sunday at Valmeyer High School served as an unofficial opening to the six-week “Water/Ways” exhibit presentation. Pictured is the Valmeyer High School Chorus. (Sean McGowan photo)

The Monroe City School House Museum — owned by the Valmeyer Community Heritage Society — served as a one-room school house to the community in the early 1900s.

Beginning this weekend, the society plans to fill the building with displays and programs about the history of water in Monroe County. The grand opening of the exhibit takes place 10 a.m. Saturday.

The local companion piece titled “H2O: Friend or Foe” will accompany the Smithsonian Institute’s traveling exhibit known as “Water/Ways.”

“If you’ve never been in before, it’s a large classroom area for a one-room school,” said Dennis Knobloch, Valmeyer Community Heritage Society president. “But there’s also going to be a lot packed in, so I think people will probably be overwhelmed with all of the information. But I hope they will also learn some things.”

The local and Smithsonian displays will be available for viewing from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 3.

“I think people will enjoy both the national and local aspect,” Knobloch said.

For more information on the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, go to www.museumonmainstreet.org.

Contact the Valmeyer Community Heritage Society at 935-6000 or email valmuseum@htc.net or visit Facebook.com/ValmeyerCommunityHeritageSociety. The “Water/Ways” exhibit is in its first year and will appear at a total of six Illinois locations.

Along with many other local displays, Craig Baum will present “Follow the Creek Home” on Sunday; Sheryl Metzger, Rodney Linker and Bill Shaw of Luhr Bros. will present “Then and Now — Levees to River Work and More” on Nov. 3; Jan Wenk will present “The Ocean Spray Steamboat Disaster” on Nov. 12.

“I think people will find (the local displays) relatable because they are familiar with the subject area,” Knobloch said.

Wenk, who serves as Monroe County Genealogy Society president, discovered a story in 2010 about her great-great grandfather William J. Spargo and his connection to steamboats.

Wenk’s great-great grandfather was the engineer of the famed Ocean Spray steamboat that raced the Hannibal City steamboat in 1858, causing the death of 23 people and the destruction of three steamboats.

In sharing her great-great grandfather’s story, Wenk hopes to show people how to research their genealogy and any connections their ancestors have to steamboat history.

“There really are not programs out there on how to find out about an ancestor that was out on the river,” she said.

Knobloch added that Monroe County served as a connecting point for steamboat traffic headed to St. Louis, with 30 documented river landings in the county. He said the steamboat activity served as an important part in the early development of the county.

Other than steamboat history, local exhibits in the school house will focus on significant periods of flooding in the county. That includes the 1993 flood that broke the levee and washed away old town Valmeyer.

Additionally, local displays will rehash the recent village of Maeystown’s water situation in which residents were exposed to high concentrations of nitrates in their drinking water. The village decided in June to sign a 20-year contract with Fountain Water District to supply residents with water.

To welcome the Smithsonian exhibit into town, the Valmeyer Community Chorus, Valmeyer High School Chorus and Valmeyer High School Band performed a joint concert Sunday at the high school.

The music performed celebrates water’s impact on the community’s culture, environment and history.

Aside from showcasing the exhibits, the six-week long event will also serve as the grand opening of the school house to the public. Knobloch said bringing in the Smithsonian exhibit served as the “kick in the pants” the society needed to finish work on the building.

“We’re kind of hitting it all in one shot,” he said.

However, members of the community will not have the opportunity to observe the historic significance of the school house with the exhibits taking up space in the facility. Knobloch said the society would think about showing off the school house itself in early 2017 after the exhibit leaves Valmeyer.

While the exhibit is in town, Knobloch said he hopes attendants will consider the importance of water conservation and water’s impact on the world.

“So many people think of water as, ‘we turn on the faucet and there it is,’” he said. “I think it will be more of a challenge with future generations, but hopefully they’ll work hard and learn some lessons.”

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