Near the beginning of the new exhibit in the north gallery at the Washington County Museum. Displays will feature artwork, text, audio, visual and tactile experiences.

From the great American desert to major U.S. agricultural producer, an interactive exhibit at the Washington County Museum in Fort Calhoun will tell the history of the area through the eyes of agriculture.

No date is set for the exhibit to open, but it will offer a tactile, visual and audio walk through the county's history. When finished, it will chronologically depict the identity of Washington County as it sprung from early 1800s Fort Atkinson military farming, moving to pioneer claim-staking and the development of railroads, infrastructure, steam-powered tools, nuclear power, early school systems, government and lawmaking.

"It was coined the great American desert, that nothing could grow here, by (Stephen H. Long)," Washington County Historical Association Executive Director Julie Ashton said. "That was the engineer that came out here and said the area was totally unfit for any kind of agriculture, and within five years Fort Atkinson started planting crops and proved him wrong."

Walls have been put up in the gallery, some already featuring artwork, pictures and text about early activity and figures from the area, such as Long and John I. Blair. Materials for the rest of the walls are currently under production.

"The hardest part is getting all this narrative written," Ashton said. "Every time we add a line, it adjusts the sizing because if you add a line here, it takes down the size of pictures. Every time you make a change it's like a domino effect."

In front of the walls of artwork, pictures and text will be artifacts, such as early surveying equipment. Furs and replica crops will also be on display, which visitors will be able to pick up and examine.

Audio and visual hardware will be installed, featuring 30-second video clips or audio recordings.

"People will be able to touch an image on the screen and hear a reading of a policeman's diary from 1901," Ashton said. "It should be a good interactive experience for kids coming through because most of our kids are fourth graders studying pioneer and Nebraska history."

The museum received grant money from the Blair Area Community Foundation for the audio and visual hardware and grant money from Humanities Nebraska for video and audio recordings.

In addition to grants from the two organizations, the museum also worked with an exhibit designer from Omaha and the Allen Cemetery Association.

"They support a lot of historical causes," Ashton said. "They gave us money to hire a professional exhibit designer and kind of come up with a concept of the history of the area ... This story will tell the development of the county through the eyes of the start of agriculture."

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