For more than 30 years, Mona Painter has dreamed of a museum someday opening in Cooper Landing. Now that dream will become a reality.
"I've wanted a museum in Cooper Landing for a really long time," Painter said recently from the old one-room schoolhouse housing the new museum. "This is just so exciting."
The museum idea started to take shape in November of 1999, when the Cooper Landing Historical Society was formed. Following the formation of the club, community members have worked almost nonstop on the museum project.
The project got a major boost when the TelAlaska company donated the old Cooper Landing post office and extension buildings. In 2001, the Kenai Peninsula Borough donated the schoolhouse. Jack Lean's original general store building also was added to the site, bringing the total number of buildings at the museum site to four. Although the museum initially will be housed in the school, Painter said she's got big plans for the other buildings.
"We have a storage building now, and the idea is for the post office and store to kind of have room vignettes of an old post office, miner's cabin and general store," she said.
Mona Painter is excited to see the museum take shape.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Painter noted the general store is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and that the school building was used from 1955 through 2000.
Getting those old buildings into shape hasn't been easy. Working alongside Painter were community club board members David Rhode and Mary Fort.
Fort said that since January, more than 300 hours of volunteer community service have gone into restoring just the schoolhouse.
"A lot of community hours have gone into this building," she said while sanding a windowsill inside the building.
Rhode said in addition to being home to the new museum, the old school building holds some special significance for him.
"I actually went to school here," he said.
Painter said the main focus of museum exhibits will be on the history of the area and the people who settled the mountainous area where Kenai Lake empties into the Kenai River.
The museum sits alongside the Kenai River in the heart of Cooper Landing.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We have some really interesting stuff," she said. "Cooper Landing has only been Cooper Landing for about 100 years, but there have been some interesting people who have lived here."
Exhibits highlighting the area's past as a mining and fishing destination will be prominent. Already on display are old newspaper articles, photographs, maps and scrapbooks detailing the area's rich history. Plans are in the works to display old mining equipment, animal hides, furniture from the past and even a full-grown brown bear skeleton.
Painter said the bear skeleton is especially exciting. Created by students in Sheryl Sotelo's class at Cooper Landing Elementary School, the skeleton will measure more than 96 inches in length. Students have spent more than a year reconstructing the bear, which was killed in an automobile collision last summer.
"I can see people wanting to have their picture taken with that bear," Painter said.
The fact that the children of Cooper Landing are helping make the museum a reality is an indication of the high level of community support that's gone into the project. Painter said without the entire community working together, the museum would likely never have become a reality.
She pointed out that much of what's been needed for the museum has been provided through such efforts as community garage sales and donated labor.
"We've had such good volunteers," she said. "There are people in this community who have been interested in every single aspect of it."
The new museum is at Mile 48.8 of the Sterling Highway in Cooper Landing. A grand opening ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday. After that, it will be open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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