Visitors to Palmyra can see the Gardner House Museum and old jail to learn about the history of the town, including its connections to Hollywood and the Civil War.

The Gardner House was built in 1828 as the home of a Palmyra founder and has gone through a series of evolutions before becoming the museum it is today.

It was first a stagecoach shop and eventually an inn between St. Charles and Des Moines. Later the building became a school.

In the mid-20th century, it fell into disrepair after being used as a furniture warehouse. In the 1970s, the building, which is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, began to be restored into a museum.

Items in the museum were donated by community members and vary from an old broadax to land deeds from the 1800s. Some rooms have themes, such as the small room with vintage sewing equipment.

The schoolhouse room holds an old desk and pictures of rural schools, and the kitchen has a spinning wheel, wooden bowls and other antiques.

One room holds several 1800s-style wedding dresses. Tourists can see vintage clothing, dressers and trunks in this bedroom.

Another room pays tribute to actresses Rose Ingraham and Jane Darwell, both from Palmyra. Posters display advertisements for Ingraham’s Broadway shows in the 1950s and ‘60s, including “Where’s Charley?” and “The Boy Friend.”

The museum displays history about Darwell, who was perhaps best known for her role as the bird woman in the song “Feed the Birds” from “Mary Poppins.” She appeared in more than 100 movies and won an Oscar for her portrayal of the matriarch of the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The Gardner House Museum has a military section with uniforms spanning decades. It used to include Civil War memorabilia, but that is being moved to the Marion County Jail and Jailor’s House, built in 1858 and now a museum in the process of remodeling.

The jail is a more fitting place for the Civil War artifacts because it was the site of the Palmyra Massacre, an event of the Civil War. In 1862, a Union general ordered the execution of 10 Confederate prisoners as retaliation for the disappearance of a local Union supporter.

Once the jail renovation is complete, artifacts will be displayed in cases made from replica coffins used in reenactments of the Palmyra Massacre.

Items on display will include brass knuckles, a cannon ball, original keys to the jail, a gavel owned by former Missouri Speaker of the House Roy Hamlin and a gun belonging to a man killed in the Palmyra Massacre.

Other features of the jail are the original sheriff’s living quarters, a genealogy room and information on the histories of Missouri counties.

  • Community reporter, spring 2020 Studying magazine writing. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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