Moscow’s museum gives people a physical connection to past
Light shines through the stained glass window into the foyer of the McConnell Mansion.
Built in 1886 and given to Latah County in 1966, the McConnell Mansion serves as a museum for the county. Located in the Fort Russell District behind the 1912 center, the Victorian architecture does not seem out of place in the oldest neighborhood in Moscow.
The floors that generations of people have walked on are original and the carpets covering the center of the rooms are newer, but period correct.
Visitors are able to each experience the mansion differently, because they are able to walk into the rooms they want to look into, said Zachary Wnek, curator of the mansion museum. Nothing is roped off, which is part of the charm of the McConnell Mansion as a museum.
The McConnell Mansion, under the stewardship of the Latah County Historical Society, serves as a museum with artifacts that tell the story of Latah County in a more physical way than reading about the area’s history in a book.
During the summer, about 200 to 250 people visit the mansion and during the winter attendance spikes in December when the mansion is decorated for the holidays, Wnek said.
The museum is free to walk through and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1-4 p.m. The docents are volunteers who have a passion for history, Wnek said, they bridge the past to the present as they guide people through the mansion and provide context to the seemingly random objects placed around the mansion.
“Every town has its own history,” said Sandra Kelly, McConnell Mansion docent. “I love history and the educational aspect of history.”
The exhibits and artifacts tell the stories of the people of Latah County, Wnek said. It gives the public a more complete picture of what it was like to live in Latah County during the late 19th and early 20th century.
William McConnell made his money selling produce during the gold rush in 1878. He and his family moved into the mansion Dec. 24, 1886.
The mansion was the first building in Moscow to have indoor plumbing, Wnek said. It had two bathrooms, one on each floor. Within the first five years of living in the home, the McConnells took out the upstairs bathroom because the pipes leaked too much. They also turned the back porch into a bedroom, because Mrs. McConnell was ill and could not make it up the stairs. This room now serves as the gift shop.
The artifacts in the exhibit are from the Latah County Historical Society’s collection and help piece together this aspect of Moscow’s history, Wnek said. Exhibits like this help to connect people to the past.
“They keep us grounded, in a way,” Wnek said. “History reminds us of our past and reminds us of how far we have come.”
After McConnell lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1893 and the mansion in 1898, the Adair family bought it, Wnek said.
The Adairs rented out the extra rooms. One of their renters was Fredrick Church, who taught medieval history at the University of Idaho. He bought the mansion in 1941, after the Thomas Jackson family owned it for a short period of time.
The mansion has had its share of owners who lived in it from 1886-1966, when it was donated to the Latah County Historical Society. Each owner left some mark on the mansion, making it more unique, Wnek said.
Adair’s daughter loved photography, so he constructed a darkroom for her under the stairwell. Before this, the space was not being used for anything, Wnek said.
One of the most notable rooms is the kitchen, which was updated in the 1930s and contains a stove, cabinet and telephone of the period. Wnek said the room gives the mansion a lived-in feeling.
Graham Perednia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org