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Curator dishing it out with a passion




Preparing the Hadley family dish collection for display has been Jaime Schlesinger's obsession for the last few months.

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Preparing the Hadley family dish collection for display has been Jaime Schlesinger's obsession for the last few months.

As curatorial assistant for the Ellis County Historical Museum, Schlesinger has categorized, cleaned and puzzled over the collection for more than three months. The fruits of her labor have become the first satellite display of ECHM at the Hadley Center, 205 E. Seventh,

The 402-piece dish collection of Dolly and Lilly Hadley was given to ECHM by Sternberg Museum two years ago.

Dating back to the 1830s, the collection is a tangible reminder of a family whose contributions helped build the Hays community.

After the week-long process of locating each piece based on Sternberg documents, Schlesinger, a Fort Hays State University graduate student from Oklahoma, set about cleaning the dishes.

"The best thing to use on the dishes was Ivory soap and vinegar and water, and then rinse them off," she said.

The next step was to put a session number on each dish, photograph the dishes and enter them into ECHM's new database.

Some pieces of the Hadley family dish collection long have been on display at First United Methodist Church, 305 W. Seventh. The Hadley family contributed substantial donations to build both the church and the former Hadley Memorial Hospital, which now is the Hadley Center.

"The museum cases are already in place and they're perfect for our situation," ECHM Executive Director Don Westfall said of the display location at the Hadley Center. "We couldn't ask for a better place to display the dishes.

"But also it's appropriate given the Hadley family history of the building as a memorial hospital."

The Hadley family history is one of a prominent family that rose to their position despite pioneer adversities. Sarah Hadley, along with her five children, homesteaded a tract of land in northern Ellis County about 20 miles from Hays in 1883.

Sarah Hadley and a daughter, Hattie, drowned in the Saline River in 1894 when they attempted to ford the river. Lilly Hadley, who was also in the wagon, survived by clinging to tree limbs.

No direct descendants of the Hadley family remain in Ellis County. None of the Hadley children who remained in Ellis County, including Dolly, Lilly and Mark, married, Lilly died in 1943 and Dolly and Mark died in 1949. Their brother Harry Hadley relocated to Colorado.

"They were obviously a pretty wealthy family to serve as benefactors for the Methodist Church and also Hadley Memorial Hospital," Westfall said. "The money was primarily through ranching and oil... primarily oil, I suppose, more than anything else.

"Mark Hadley seemed to express that as a much more lucrative business than cattle."

Schlesinger marveled over the diversity of the collection as she placed tea cups in a display case at the Hadley Center in late December.

"There are so many and they're so different," she said, pointing out the blue plates depicting the American Revolutionary War which are displayed in a case near Wedgewood and Adams and Sons dishes.

Her favorite, she said, is an "absolutely gorgeous" moss rose tea set. Although she is uncertain why the Hadley sisters collected certain pieces, Schesinger has become intrigued by many of the selections.

Her research on the dishes led her to many hours of online searching for patterns. The glassware, she said was hardest to identify as none of the pieces were marked.

"There are some I still can't figure out," she said. "I could spend days on one dish and not figure out what it was."

"Some of them, the markings are so bad on the bottom because they smeared when they put them on... You have no hope of figuring out what it is."

Although Westfall has worked with satellite displays in other communities before coming to Hays, the Hadley display is ECHM's first venture into community satellite displays.

"We have so many interesting objects that it seems a shame that they should be in storage for so long before anyone does see them," Westfall said. "The Hadley glassware collection is an example.

"It's such a huge collection that it would be a big project for us to make space here (at ECHM), so this idea of a satellite exhibit is something that the museum can do to feature some of what it has at a remote location."