This story was posted to The Arts of the Four States web site in 2003 after the tornado that damaged or destroyed much of Pierce City's downtown but did not damage the museum: http://www.4statearts.com/historical/story/?id=96
Reprinted with permission from The Monett Times
Has Pierce City lost its history? Does the loss of most of the historic downtown business district mean there is no more "Historic Pierce City?" Certainly not, is the answer one will find at the town's history museum.
Although largely unused in the past three years, as the building survived the May 4, 2003, tornado that did extensive damage to City Hall, Heritage House, and other buildings, the museum was left as one of few places for the town to gather for meetings. Since the tornado, the museum has seen many meetings of the city council, chamber of commerce, municipal court, Historic Pierce City (HPC), Friends of the Library, and others.
New life has been breathed into efforts to renovate the building and open it to the public as a museum to honor Pierce City's history, including its connection to author Harold Bell Wright (HBW.)
A letter of concern from the family of HBW, dated the day after the tornado, was published in the Pierce City Leader-Journal and led to contact by E-mail, letters, and phone calls between Marcie and Peter Wright, of the HBW Family, and the museum's board of trustees. The Wright Family supports a HBW museum in Branson at the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and owns its contents. They also maintain copyrights on books, postcards, and memorabilia and the "official" HBW Web Site. The family issued official statements after the events of May 4 that although it is not affiliated with the Branson facility, they "wholeheartedly endorse" Pierce City's HBW Museum and its efforts to preserve the HBW legacy.
A link to the Web Page for Pierce City's museum was placed on the Wright Family's site, www.wrightconcept.com. Links were also placed on other HBW Web Sites such as the extensive site maintained by well-known researcher and collector Gerry Chudleigh, www.gchudleigh.com. The museum's board has received many communications from HBW fans and enthusiasts from around the country as a result of the efforts of the family of HBW.
Donations and offers of help have been received by the museum since the tornado in the form of display cases from the early days of Pierce City that were rescued from the rubble of The General Store and given by Kenneth and Marianne Garrison, a number of books and HBW memorabilia items, and other items from the town's history.
Bob Lyner made a generous offer to the town not long after he heard of the damage the town had sustained from the storm. He had previously given estimates to digitally photograph and make a CD of the very large Theron Bennett scrapbook. His previous estimates of up to $26,000 for the extensive work were more than the museum could afford. After the storm, he offered to do the work for free. He has begun work on the large book which may be completed by the end of the year.
Renovations to the building built in 1879 began when the Board of Aldermen, at the urging of then mayor Carol Hirsch, created the museum to "Celebrate Pierce City." The building remained closed and largely unused except for meetings of the museum board and Historic Pierce City (HPC). Volunteers, including Hirsch and husband Fred, removed shelves and stripped wallpaper, and attempted to prepare the building for its eventual opening to the public.
Contractor Paul Masden built two new rooms at the back of the building and did extensive work to approximately half of the walls in the former church. Masden's work on downtown buildings before and after the tornado left him unable to continue work on the project. Work continues with the help of volunteers from Pierce City and neighboring communities.
The public was recently welcomed at an open house at the museum during Howdy Neighbor Days. The next major public event scheduled at the Harold Bell Wright Museum is an 'Art Signing Day' where writers, painters, crafters, and other artists are invited to bring their items for sale. Participants are asked to make a donation to the "Keep Pierce City Alive" fund to help the town in its continuing efforts to recover from storm-related damage. Art Signing Day is scheduled for October 18, 2003, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
HBW Museum, 404 N. Walnut St., Pierce City, MO 65723