Exhibit shows life in 1900s

? Many families have stacks of photos of stiffly posed ancestors in their attics gathering dust, but few of the photos capture everyday life at the turn of the last century.

But a recently compiled exhibit at the Dorrance Historical Society Museum does just that.

The exhibit features photos by Dorrance native Leslie W. Halbe, born in 1893. Young Halbe got a box camera when he was 9 and used it to capture life in the rural area.

They feature area homes. Many, such as A.G.T. Cooper’s, were showplaces for their era and the families that lived in them.

Halbe set up a tent in the yard for a studio and used the family bathroom for a darkroom. Stacks of glass negatives were stored in wooden boxes in a barn on the property. When Leslie Halbe packed his camera and tent and rode his motorcycle to Kansas City to pursue a career, Lewis Reilly helped his friend Lionel Halbe, Leslie’s younger brother, move the negatives into the home’s attic.

When Halbe’s mother moved to Florida, the negatives were loaned to Fort Hays State College. Some were lost in the flood in 1951. The remainder were donated to the Kansas Historical Society.

Russell County native Patricia Michaelis, who works at the Kansas State Historical Society, helped the Dorrance Historical Society get the photos for an exhibit there.

Many of the images captured on the glass negatives were reprinted by Tom Mahoney on a computer and added to the framed photos from the State Historical Society.

When enlarged, some of the photos of homes show clothes drying on the lines and the ladies working in their garden in the backyard, Reilly said.

“It was a very bustling, busy town. The train stopped here, and this building in the center was a hub,” she said of the Reiff Building.

L. W. Halbe is shown in a photograph of the Reiff Building in Dorrance in the 1900s, where his collection of more than 4,000 photographs is now on display.

Built in 1910, the first floor had a store with groceries, notions, nails and harnesses. The second floor was used for dances, silent movies, performances by traveling troupes and meetings for local clubs.

Inmates from the Ellsworth Correctional Facility helped clean and prepare the building when the Historical Society acquired it, said Lee Roy Resley, Dorrance Historical Society director.

Though Reilly isn’t a native, her husband Lewis, was.

Lewis Reilly, who died in 1995, wanted to save the train depot as a museum, but nobody was interested.

“They pooh-poohed the idea. I thought ‘someday I’m going to do this (start a historical museum) for Lewis,'” Reilly said.

The museum also features numerous displays, including a schoolroom, country store, parlor, kitchen and bedroom.

“We’re always looking for more items related to Dorrance,” said James Martin, a director.