The Olive Branch Museum

Olive Branch,Ms

By Toni Lepeska

Olive Branch’s one-room museum, a little-known gem at City Hall, is combination yearbook, trophy room and results of an archeological dig.
Class photos show the city’s humble citizens alongside its heroes. A purple heart sits behind one glass case and a rusty axe head in another. Of the type used with logs by settlers, it was unearthed during grading for a subdivision.
In a day that a cup of joe costs a couple of dollars, old newspapers offer a pound of coffee for 22 cents. A five-pound bag of flour for 39 cents and a steak for 79 cent a pound.
And just inside to the right hangs a golden shovel used in the ceremonial ground breaking of City Hall. Before the new building, the mayor and his staff worked in a smattering of offices across the city, most notably across the street in what was constructed to be a fire station.
Yes, it seemed with the new City Hall that Olive Branch had arrived. But in moving forward, officials did not want to lose touch with the past. The space for the museum was set aside, and longtime city employee Bill Cruthirds oversaw its collection. He recently retired.
“I started accumulating photographs and artifacts that I felt were reflective of Olive Branch history or something that I felt would become an important part of Olive Branch history,” Cruthirds said. “The contents of the museum, for the most part, are things that I was able to research or things that were donated by older people in the Olive Branch community.”
Jay Nichols, Olive Branch’s first public relations official, grew up in the city. His grandfather, George Edward Williams, was instrumental in starting Northcentral Electric Power Association. His father, Erlend Nichols, was a school superintendent. Now Nichols oversees the museum.
“So much has changed. It’s not the little town we all grew up in,” Nichols said. “Back in the mid-1990s the explosion took place.”
He wasn’t speaking of some sort of industrial accident. That’s the population explosion. Olive Branch grew from 3,567 residents in 1990 to more than 33,000 people in 2011. That’s when Bloomberg Businessweek identified the city as the fastest growing in America based on a 20-year period. Now the population stands at between 36,000 and 38,000 people.
“You’ve got so many people who have moved here from other cities who don’t realize the rich history of Olive Branch,” Nichols said.
The museum is their opportunity to explore the history of their community.
Mayor Scott Phillips also grew up in Olive Branch. He inherited the museum from Sam Rikard, mayor at the time the golden shovel was used.
“Unfortunately in a lot of the cities you don’t see the past, only the present,” Phillips said. “I think the most valuable thing about the museum is to be able to see both the past and present.”
Pat Hamilton, who sits on the Board of Alderman, said Olive Branch decided several years ago to emphasize its history to set it apart from surrounding cities. School children participate in “Walk on the Roost” in the spring to learn about local history. They stop by the museum at 9200 Pigeon Roost.
Hamilton wants to find a place for the collection she and her husband own, and for the artifacts she’s sure other people in the city own and want to preserve for future generations.
“That is our heritage,” she said. “That’s where we came from.”
The museum, with 12 cases of artifacts either owned by the city or loaned to it, is open during City Hall hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.