The museum, a prominent four story sandstone building on a hill in the center of Hot Springs served as an elementary school through 1961. It is now maintained as a museum by the Fall River County Historical Society and houses a number of unique artifacts and pioneer era treasures.
Built in 1893, this historical sandstone building is located on the hill between upper and lower town. The original building plans were drawn by William Gray of Lincoln, Nebraska, with the construction contract won by the lowest bidder, A. D. McKay for $23,550.00.
Using stone from the Burke quarry, the teamsters unloaded rock from railroad cars and hauled it up the steep hill, finding it “a hard pull!”
Noted in the Hot Springs Star (the local newspaper) on June 25, 1893: “Contractor McKay has decided not to use the steam hoisting machine on the new school as it is too expensive. He is having the stone carried up by hand on litter bearers. He will find it slow work and more expensive in the end in the opinion of the Star”. In August the Hot Springs Star reported: “It will only take five more cars of stone to finish the schoolhouse and Dr. Hargens, president of the school board, informs us there is sufficient money to complete the new school under the present contract.”
In 1893, the school board fixed the salaries as follows: school principal at $1,200.00 per year, one teacher at $75.00 per month, one at $55.00 per month, and four at $50.00. On January 8, 1894, Hot Springs celebrated the dedication of the new school. In 12 years this school had progressed from a small log house with a volunteer teacher to a beautiful four-story Burke quarry sandstone building with seven teachers and 264 students.
Today the school-turned-museum is a wonderful example of local adaption of the Richardsonian Romanesque style building. A.D. McKay, utilizing local craftsmen, constructed one of the finest sandstone structures in the city. With its broad roof plane, round arched openings and straight forward treatment of the stone characteristics of the style. Heavy stone lintels appear over the windows on three stories of the structure, while round arched windows appear in the wall dormers. Both east and west facades have projecting rectangular entry ways with a Romanesque arch and turned, cresting devices. Other elements include: checkerboard stone work along the cornice, an applique at each gable end in the two major wall dormers, large squat chimneys on the roof line, columnar trim along each side of the dormers, and three bands of stringcourse.