Family museum in Atlanta filled with history
July 19, 2012, Story and Slideshow By Nancy Saul, ATLANTA - What began as a place to store collectibles for Judy and Mike Evans of Bloomington has evolved into a family museum on Atlanta’s main street that draws visitors from throughout the world. They have named their attraction “Memories.” The slideshow is presented by
The brick building, erected in the mid-1800s to house Hoose Brothers Hardware Store, was in dire condition when the Evanses bought it from a relative a couple of years ago. Since then, Mike has filled the basement with 50 loads of dirt, poured a concrete floor strong enough to support automobiles and used the original floor beams to build shelves for his and Judy’s collectibles.
The walls are pretty much the same as ever, covered in green paneling original to the hardware store. Mike also added a ceiling.
“The city and just everybody have been super helpful,” Mike said. “I’m a contractor in Bloomington and this (Logan County) is a whole different world.”
“The people in Atlanta are like the people we met when we did our Santa Monica tour two years ago,” Judy said.
Mike explained that during their Route 66 voyage, they drove a vintage car and stopped in small towns along the road, where the people were friendly and helpful.
The couple has been collecting for years, and now they can share portions of their treasures with travelers who stop in Atlanta. The window to the museum is filled with vintage modes of transportation.
There’s a 1956 Harlely motorcycle that was converted into an enduro bike in the 1950s; a uni -cycle; an ice skate with a piece of wood to hold the blade; and a Whizzer motorcycle. “We have things that you’d encounter in the 1920s through the 1960s along life’s journeys,” Mike said.
The first thing to catch everyone’s eye is the 1961 Rolls Royce with an Elvis figure in the back seat.
There’s a cigar store area with a wooden Indian Judy gave Mike as a gift; a shoe shine parlor that came from North Main Street in Bloomington; and a barber shop.
“I’ve had a lot of this stuff a long time,” Mike said. “We just got a lot of mannequins and we’re going to dress some of them to work in the barber shop.”
What Mike dubbed his “$2 tour” was temporarily interrupted while he greeted a group of French motorcyclists who came in to see the museum. “I’ve filled a third of my guest book just since the first of June,” he said. “I’ve had visitors from 34 countries.”
Visitors to the museum have included children’s author Dennis Yang who has also visited in the Evans home a couple of times. The Westpaul Band that plays in the same tavern where the Beatles used to perform have stopped by, as did a group that plays music and owns a restaurant in Amarillo, Texas.
Full-sized flags form one display and represent the countries of some of the museum’s visitors.
Mike keeps a supply of coins near the 1948 Seeburg juke box and says often his visitors end up dancing to the music. “They all like Elvis,” he said. “This is the first time some of them have ever seen a juke box.”
A vintage parlor scene features a mannequin clothed in Judy’s mother’s 70-year-old wedding gown. The tableau also contains an organ and Mike is considering adding a Victrola. Like several of the exhibits, he says, this one is not finished.
The old-fashioned kitchen is not even close to complete. A shelf over the kitchen will hold vintage quilts.
In the back portion of the museum are a 1940 Deluxe Ford sedan and a wall filled with a license plate from every state, plus the District of Columbia, displayed in alphabetical order. Mike also rescued a display a friend put together featuring hotrods.
His favorite exhibit honors Bloomington’s Vagabond Hot Rod Club. “I was too young to join,” he explained. “I was just 14. They were sort of my heroes.”
Mike has a picture of the club members when they were 16 or 17 years old and another of the same group during a reunion when they had reached their 70s. He also has photos and memorabilia of the Synchronizers Hot Rod Club of McLean, which was also popular in the mid-1950s. One member gave him a white club jacket the donor had kept in his closet since he was 19 years old.
Mike has black and white photos of motorcycle races from the 1960s. Some of them feature friends who are now in their late 70s.
Friends from the Railsplitter Antique Auto Club set up a display of model cars that had belonged to late club member Art Gehlbach, who died in 2010.
The museum also has a display of toys from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s and items that might have been found in the original hardware store. On a shelf above the display are figures of one of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy.
Judy’s display takes visitors back to her childhood. “My mom just saved everything,” she said.
Consequently, Judy has not just the tiny Fiesta ware dishes and a second set of blue and white dishes, but also the tiny blue and white paper napkins that match second set.
She also has a display showing her grandparents’ eyeglasses and one of her Grandmother Spauling’s fans. Her grandfather’s glasses are of the variety that contained hearing aids in the earpieces.
Both Mike and Judy have strong ties to the Atlanta area.
Judy’s family, the Spauldings, have farmed in the Atlanta/Funks Grove/McLean area since the early 1900s. Mike’s family migrated to Illinois from Kentucky to work seasonally on farms such as the Funk farm. Both his grandfather and an uncle decided to stay in the area. His uncle, Tom Evans, is a longtime resident of Atlanta.
Memories is open free to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday afternoons on what Mike calls a “catch-me-if-you-can basis.” A niece serves as hostess when the Evanses are not available to provide tours.
Mike encourages groups who would like to tour the museum to call 309-827-6997 and leave a message.