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The Drew County Museum got its start when the Drew County Historical Society officially incorporated as a nonprofit corporation on March 4, 1969. On February 27, 1970, the Drew County Historical Society purchased the historic Cavaness House from the Hoyle family in order to establish the museum. The Cavaness House is a Southern Colonial Revival Mansion on South Main Street that was built in stages from 1906 until 1916 by Monticello (Drew County) businessman Garvin Cavaness and his wife, Phenton Wells Cavaness. After his wife’s death in 1947, Cavaness sold the house to J. Porter Hoyle and his wife Lillian Hoyle. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
A walnut spool bed owned by Cavaness’s grandmother and a pair of blue glass candlesticks are original to the home. A large set of dinner china from the Taylor plantation in eastern Drew County is displayed prominently in the dining room. The museum also has themed rooms devoted to musical instruments, children’s toys, military artifacts, and Native American artifacts. In addition to the historic house, two cabins built by Drew County pioneers were moved to the property to preserve them and make them accessible to the public.
Most of the artifacts were made in Drew County or brought to Drew County by settlers. Mattie Butler Miles used cotton threads from the Monticello Cotton Mill to crochet a substantial decorative coverlet in 1917. Later donated to the museum, the thirty-five-pound coverlet is displayed on a bed on the second floor. On the first floor is displayed a pair of pierced gold earrings worn by the great-grandmother of African-American educator Sadie Johnson. According to oral history passed down through the family, this jewelry was brought from Africa while she was aboard one of the last slave ships to America. Another especially rare artifact is a painting of the town square on election day circa 1876. Featuring the 1871 French Castle–style Drew County Courthouse, the painting was restored in 2005 and displayed on the first floor in the music room. Other noteworthy artifacts include a Victorian memorial necklace fashioned out of human hair, a German flag brought back by a World War II veteran, a cotton spinning wheel, two looms, a baby bed used in Drew County by five generations, a display of photographs of numerous doctors who have served in the county over the years, and a portrait reported to have been painted by an Italian prisoner of war.
Starting in the 1980s, the society collected documentary evidence of Drew County history for the establishment of an archive. In 1991, the society moved the archival materials into the former home of George and Mabel Sherry; the three bedrooms and kitchen serve as storage areas, while the living room and foyer serve as an area for visitors to conduct research. Located behind the Drew County Museum, the Southeast Arkansas Research and Archives Center holds photographs, school records, family histories, maps, business records, scrapbooks, and an extensive vertical file on Drew County history.
For additional information:
Dupree, Sandra. “Reflections on Education: An Interview with Sadie Thomasson Johnson.” Drew County Historical Journal 2 (1987): 17–23.
Lampkin, Sheila. “Grand Old Lady: The 100-Year-Old Garvin Cavaness House is the Drew County Historical Museum’s Home.” Drew County Historical Journal 21 (2006): 37–40.
Webster, Linda. “Drew County Historical Society Makes Move to West College.” Advance Monticellonian, August 21, 1991, Section 2, p. 1.
Webster, Linda. “From the Museum: The Miles Coverlet.” Drew County Historical Journal 6 (1991): 33–34.
Mary HeadyUniversity of Arkansas at Monticello
Last Updated 7/7/2014
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