BY LYNAE SOWINSKI
When Reverend Ambrose Moore built a mid-Victorian house at 529 N. College in 1869, it was on the outskirts of Bloomington’s city limits. Over time the house, between 9th and 10th streets, became a bookbindery, a boarding house, and the home of William Rawles, first dean of the IU School of Business. In 1952, Bloomington natives Edwin and Mary Ellen Farmer bought the house and spent the rest of their lives there, planning to leave it as a Bloomington heritage museum.
Mary Ellen loved history, especially local history, says Chris Sturbaum, current president of The Farmer House Museum’s board of directors and a Bloomington city council member. “Before she died, she spent the last seven or eight years just planning to have a museum. So we find notes from her in all her stuff”—notes that range from naming the business where she had a dress altered to declaring a favorite hat.
Sturbaum calls Mary Ellen an “indiscriminate saver,” meaning that for most of her life she saved nearly everything, including World War II memorabilia, furniture, greeting cards, pottery, and almost every article of clothing she owned from the 1930s to the ’90s.
Mary Ellen died in 1999, three years after Edwin, but since 2010, when the museum board appointed Emily Purcell as museum director, The Farmer House Museum has taken on new life.
Purcell makes new exhibits from the different items she finds: “I’ve been going back through the boxes and unearthing the pottery,” she says, “and it’s been a surprisingly strong pottery collection.” She changes the exhibits every few months to match the time of year.
Although most of the museum’s collection is from the Farmers, Purcell says she borrows items from anyone in the community who wants to add to the exhibits. “It’s a Bloomington show-and-tell, and I think Mary Ellen would have been in on that.”
Purcell plans to hold “listening parties” this spring, in which attendees will listen to old-time radio programs on the museum’s refurbished 1938 Grunow All-Wave radio.
The museum is open for free tours on Wednesdays 10 am to 1 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm, and Sundays 1 to 4 pm; or call 336-5597 for an appointment.