Civil War Museum-A Work in Progress

I went to a Civil War Museum in Battle Lake, Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.

A little museum with a hand lettered sign out front that said Civil War Museum. I went mainly to find fodder for a blog post.
It ranks as one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.

I can only dream that I can convey just a bit of how much I enjoyed it.

I’m putting up about a tenth of the pictures I took.

I hope to do another blog post about the other things in this museum, the NON-Civil War related things.

The picture above is of the museum, located in an old hotel called Prospect House. I stole this picture off the Prospect House Facebook Page.

Go to Facebook and search for Prospect House & Civil War Museum to read more.

Less than half the house was open to the public. There is more to find.

Mr. Jay Johnson, who owns and runs the museum, commented that he knew some of it was just plain TRASH they hadn’t thrown out.

But one hundred year old TRASH is really fascinating.

Here is Jay Johnson. He made our tour so fascinating. He’s not a historian. He’s not sure what to do with all this stuff.

But he knows it’s very rare and cool and he’s trying to treat it with respect and share it with the world.

It’s his home. He moved there to care for his mother in her declining years and now this huge house is all his.

As he began going through the house, while his mom was still living, he realized NO ONE had EVER thrown anything away in this large hotel (well, large for the small town it is in).


In among so much cool stuff, he found a treasure trove of possessions belonging to his grandfather, James ‘Cap’ Colehour, a captain in the Civil War.

That’s his picture above holding his Spencer Rifle, given to him during the war. Below are two sleeves from a Union uniform. Cap Colehour was wounded on two separate occasions. Both times he survived, healed and went back to the fighting.

Cap saved both sleeves and brought them home with him.

And Mr. Johnson found them in the house. They’re in a glass case in the museum along with pictures and letters.

This is a close-up of the picture of one of the two sleeves. The white mark is a bullet hole. There is one in the other sleeve, too.


This is the letter, written by the doctor who treated Cap BOTH TIMES. Different battles, same doctor.

If you look really closely at the picture above, there is a hand written note on the letter from the doctor  from Cap saying,

Blood from wound acc’d (acquired?) at Muscle Shoals, March 25, 1864.

There was so much more. I could write about this forever. There were newspaper clippings everywhere. I could still be there reading.

A huge part of the charm of this was Jay Johnson talking about his family history. He was so clearly interested in it and overwhelmed by it. The museum is a work in progress. I told him he needed to get an intern from a college. He needed a traveling exhibit. He needed a website with a DONATE buttom on it.

He’d just nod and say, “Yep, those are all great ideas. I need to do that.” The man is busy just going through things.

The closed off hotel is stuffed with things he’s only begun to discover. Jay said he found a stash of letters from his great grandfather home, plus other family who were in the war.

Can you imagine the wealth of information those letters contain?
Just one large room was full of the Civil War things he’d found. Only a part of the house is open and the other rooms are full of old furniture and other yet-to-be-discovered things.

This link will take you to the Prospect House facebook page with a nice detailed story of Cap Colehour.
http://ja-jp.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=134487949918190

If you’d like to talk to Jay Johnson or help support Prospect House and Civil War Museum, contact Jay at: Prospect House, 403 Lake Ave. N., Battle Lake, MN 56515

We were fishing on a lake near the museum, which is how I ended up there.

I can’t think about my time in that museum with out grinning. Fun, cool, different, fascinating.

Mary Connealy

Mary Connealy
Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series
http://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules
Updated: August 18, 2010 — 1:27 pm

15 Comments

  1. I love this! Places like Prospect House lack the sterility of the big museums. I love this for the same reason I eat at the local hangouts and stay at B and Bs when I am on vacation…it just makes things more real!

    So did you find it via hand lettered sign, did someone tell you about it? Wonderful fodder indeed!

    Peace, Julie

  2. What a great find, Mary! I love museums like this – so many are alike and run together. A couple of museums I love are the Laura Ingalls Wilder Rocky Ridge Farm museum in Missouri(I cried), and there’s one nearby that has artifacts from WWII. Camp Breckenridge was a POW camp where German prisoners were held. They actually went out to local farms in work details, and some painted these glorious murals of scenes from Europe on the walls of the Officer’s Club. Amazing.

  3. What a rich find in an out of the way location! Thanks for sharing it with us. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a day just sitting there and reading through the old letters? It’s so easy to hit “delete” these days, I’m afraid we’re going to have generations without any record of that kind of personal history. Makes me sad. Not that I want a house full of clutter – but hey, maybe if I let everything pile up, it will create a treasure trove for my great-grandkids.

  4. It was a great museum. I only wrote about the Civil War room, there was so much more.

    There was this terrific moment during the tour, one older lady was taking the tour with me and there is a beautiful setting of China laid out perfectly in the dining room. The lady pointed to a tiny pair of scissors on a sideboard, said something about how cute the grape shears were. And Mr. Johnson picked them up and looked closely at them and said, “You think these are grape shears?” Then he looks even closer and says, “Those are grape vines wrapped around the handle aren’t they? These ARE grape shears.”

    I just got this sense of being right in the middle of the creation of the museum. He’s learning right along with everyone else. He did this several times. He was just so friendly and interesting to talk to. It almost made the museum an interactive one, as if we were all working together to discover more. I loved it.

    He knew lots and lots of things, I’m not diminishing that, but there’s always more to learn.

  5. I asked him to stop by today, Jay Johnson. He said he’d try. I hope he came make it.

  6. Hi Mary, oh, I ache to go here! What a fabulous discovery you made. I myself found tons of stuff when I went through my mom’s old house which I nicknamed The Upheaval. She not only NEVER threw anything away but she also aquired everything Not Thrown Away from her mom and uncles Ted and Martin. I found a treasure trove of goodies…like Jay’s, much of it unidentified but way too cool to part with. I did find my great-great-great grandfather’s discharge papers from the Civil War. He had marched with Tecumseh Sherman. He was discharged, fortunately, before the Burning of Atlanta, and fortunately survived the dysntery.

    Good stuff here, Mary. Thank you. oxoxo

  7. Amazing, Mary. And his blood is on that paper. Goose bumps! What a find.
    When my grandmother, who saved EVERYTHING, passed away, her children went in and cleaned house. Threw out all kids of neat old stuff (including a working gramophone with a cabinet full of old Edison records – they used the records for target practice). I feel sad thinking about it now. Glad some people save things, like the people who owned this house.

  8. It seems like only in BOOKS do people find old houses with their attics full of stuff. IN real life, people clean out rooms.
    But once in a while you find something like this. Really cool.
    I had an aunt who saved everything but it seemed like, instead of lovely documents and letters, old oak furniture and yay a forgotten original Picasso painting, we just found junk. 🙂

  9. wow–how very cool!
    and jay sounds like he was quite the host
    what an interesting find!

    you’d think some “museum people” would track him down?

  10. I think he ought to contact the University of Minnesota. They might send out an intern, give some history major credit hours for cataloging the contents of the house.

  11. What an interesting post!

  12. Mary, you find the most interesting places AND
    people! Thanks for bringing them to us and sharing
    their stories with us!!

    Pat Cochran

  13. Thank you Mary for sharing this find. What a treasure. It is very rare to be able to step one foot into the past like you did…and I envy you so. 🙂

  14. What a wonderful find. I envy the man. He is uncovering treasures every day. Bless his family for being such pack rats. He really does need to contact a university and get some help with the conservation, cataloguing, and evaluation of what he is finding.
    One of these years we are going to visit that area, about the only region of the US we haven’t been to, and I will most certainly be looking for this place.

    A friend moved and I cleaned out what she left for her. I couldn’t believe what she left. Family portraits, her mother’s genealogy researching back to the early 1700s, all the family records and memorabilia. I brought some of it to her, but she didn’t want most of it. I don’t understand. From what I gather, her 2 children don’t care.

    Thank you for making us aware of this little treasure.

  15. Very nice comments, Mary. The Museum is a work in progress but I just wanted to let all of your readers know that we are taking steps to preserve the house and its belongings. I am the Chairman of the Board for the Museum and we will soon be a non-profit organization. Jay has done a phenomenal job but he is just one person. When we can get some funding we will get things like an intern and cataloging done. Soon we will also have a web page up and running.

    Thanks to all of you for the great comments.

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