COTTONWOOD -- The Verde Historical Society/ Clemenceau Heritage Museum turns a quarter century this fall.
Twenthy-five years ago a dedicated group of far-sighted, hard-working persons create the Museum we now know. Its collection is diverse and far-ranging collection of the artifacts of life in the Upper Verde, mostly during the last century or so. But a couple items that should be there are actually in Paris and London.
Two of the biggest obstacles facing these organizers was finding a permanent building to house the artifacts and completing the paperwork to make a legal entity. Despite challenges, they made it happen.
One of the first structures considered to house the collection was the Willard School, located on UVX Road. The Willard School was built on two acres of land in Bridgeport, donated by the United Verde Extention in 1920.
The school, which had two teachers for eight grades, survived until 1958 and was annexed into the Cottonwood District.
A 25-year lease was eventually signed with the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District for a wing of the Clemenceau School at Willard and Mingus which lent its identity to the museum. The long hours of labor began, in order to get the rooms ready for displays. In November, 1991, the Museum opened to the public.
An early birthday celebration is planned Friday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Three of the original founders of the museum Sandy Garrison, Mary Beth Groseta and Betty Gaudy will be answering questions and showing the original Historian's Books, for folks to go through and enjoy. Some artifacts will be on display. There will be music, and a running slide and fun events that have taken place through the years.
Birthday cake and ice cream will be served. During the day, Don Godard and Chris Nelson will present a "Living History" drama based on the book, Vanished America, bound to be both entertaining and educational.
The event is free for everyone to enjoy. The train will also be running all days, so be sure to brink the kids and support your local museum
Betty Gaudy and Helen Killebrew are two stalwarts at the Museum and recalled the many intervening years.
Helen and Betty say the State Historical Society helped the local folks get started and showed how to document everything, along with photographing acquisitions.
They say there is a lot of paperwork involved.
The Museum survives on volunteers and donations.
Helen had a special interest in the Clemenceau School building. She said, she graduated from the school twice, first when it went through 9th grade. Her family had been residents of the fenced Clemenceau district.
After graduating, she then transferred to Clarkdale High School for a year. She returned to Clemenceau when a high school was opened in part of the building.
Helen was later to become a school secretary working in the same Clemenceau building. Today, she is a regular part of the staffing of the museum. She calls it, "my school."
A popular attraction of the museum is the railroad layout, which the Sedona Railroad Club originally helped the museum establish. The set was very "basic" when first launched, according to the women, but it was to be continually expanded over the years into an elaborate diorama. The railroads were always constructed to replicate trains lines which ran through the Verde Valley communities of Jerome, Clarkdale and Clemenceau.
Jimmie Douglas, who built the UVX mine and smelter and Georges Clemenceau had been friends during WWI when Captain Jimmy Douglas was Chief of Stores for the American Red Cross in France. When the post office said Arizona had too many "Verde" names as he had dubbed the area, and the smelting community needed another name, Douglas changed the name to "Clemenceau" to honor his friend and eventually French premier. Clemenceau died November 24, 1929, Paris.
When Cottonwood was incorporated in 1960, Clemenceau and the Clemenceau Airport were included in its boundaries.
Helen says, the museum relishes the thought of a couple treasures, even though they can't be counted among the collection, both were reportedly gifts of Clemenceau himself to Douglas' town. One was a painting by the French impressionist Monet, which Clemenceau is said to have gifted the Arizona community.
Monet originally donated the painting Le Bloc (1899) to his friend, Georges Clemenceau, according to historical records, recounted by Wikipedia. After his death, heirs sold the painting around 1931 to the Parisian art dealer Wildenstein. In 1945, it was acquired by Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth II. The exact circumstances of the acquisition are not known. After the death of Queen in 2002, Monet painting passed into the stock of the Royal Collection.
Jimmy Douglas of United Verde Exploration fame purchased property in Paris for Clemenceau's retirement, without telling him, and had the building converted to a museum to honor Clemenceau after his death.
In 2002 the curator of the Clemenceau Museum in Paris, Marcel Wormser, visited the Douglas Family in Colorado, the town of Jerome, as well as the Clemenceau Museum in current Cottonwood.
In his will, Clemenceau had deeded a vase, crafted by sculptor Ernest Chaplet to the people of Clemenceau. The vase had stood on a pedestal in his study in Paris.
When it was determined the community of Clemenceau in Arizona no longer had a town hall after the closure of the smelter, the vase was returned to the Clemenceau museum in Paris, where it was returned to the pedestal.
Enjoy the remarkable stories contained in the Cottonwood Historical Society/Clemenceau Heritage Museum and join the celebration Friday June 24 from 10 to 3 p.m. at 1 N. Willard in Cottonwood.