The Museum of the Mississippi Delta has been preserving and documenting the Delta’s rich history, culture and archaeology for 50 years.

“The museum is one of the oldest — if not the oldest — museums in the Mississippi Delta,” said Cheryl Thornhill, the museum’s executive director.

The museum was founded in October 1969 and was incorporated as the Cottonlandia Educational and Recreational Foundation, but it was commonly referred to in Greenwood as Cottonlandia.

The mission of the museum remains the same today as when it was founded — to “collect and preserve the physical history of the Delta, so that we can remember our past in terms of the people of the Delta,” said Thornhill.

In recognition of its five-decade milestone, a 50th anniversary celebration will be held at the museum beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

A ticket — $25 for an individual or $50 for a couple — provides partygoers with appetizers, desserts, beverages and a first look at a rare, historical artifact that was recently donated to the museum.

“The reason we’re having this party is to recognize those people who helped and who founded the museum and those people who have been involved with its success, especially past presidents,” said Thornhill.

The museum has invited all living past presidents of its board to the event to be recognized during a brief program that evening, which will be followed by a presentation by the executive director featuring highlights of the past 50 years.

The Greenwood Leflore Malmaison Room will also officially reopen to show off new artifacts that were donated by the Leflore family. The artifacts include silver and a family bible, Thornhill said.

When it was first established, Cottonlandia’s main focus was on the history of cotton, highlighting the commodity crop that was king in the Delta.

Among the early founders of the museum were James Howard “Jim” Snyder, a South Dakota native who was stationed at the Greenwood Army Airfield Base during World War II, and Otis Allen, a former superintendent of Leflore County schools.

Thornhill said Cottonlandia was first located in the former Keesler residence. The house had previously been the location of Wilson & Knight Funeral Home.

The main portion of the Keesler house was used to display items that told the story and history of cotton, while a brick wing of the home featured Native American artifacts.

L.B. Jones, an amateur archaeologist, was also a significant part of Cottonlandia’s early days, Thornhill said.

Jones donated Native American artifacts and pottery that he dug up to the museum.

In May 1976, Cottonlandia purchased the museum’s current home — the former Billups Petroleum building on U.S. 82.

Two hundred area residents helped raise the funds to purchase the $150,000 building by buying $1,000 per-couple tickets for a dinner at the Greenwood Country Club.

The move to the new location allowed the museum to better accommodate visitors and artifacts, Snyder told the Commonwealth at the time.

In 2011, to reflect all of the museum’s offerings that extended far beyond cotton, its board voted to change the name and logo.

Thornhill said that some people thought the museum’s former name, Cottonlandia, meant it was exclusively dedicated to the subject of cotton.

“Many of the more recent museums created in the Mississippi Delta focus on the rich musical heritage of the region,” said Thornhill. “Our museum focuses on the entire Delta — the history, science, archaeology, the prehistory and art. We try to put the whole Delta as a place into context, so people will have a broader understanding of this place where we live.”

Rather than highlighting one part of the region, the Museum of the Mississippi Delta has a more expansive look, detailing general history and featuring artifacts.

Today, the museum holds more than 300 pieces of artwork and about 100,000 artifacts in its archaeological collection, Thornhill said.

It has featured various exhibits throughout the years, and the museum is also frequently used as a venue for events.

“We’ve reached a milestone,” said Thornhill. “We’ve upgraded our space and completed our renovations project, providing the public with better interpretive exhibits of our collections.

“As we look ahead, we want to continue to improve our operations.”

The 50th anniversary party tickets can be purchased online at museumofthemississippidelta.com or at the door on the day of the event.

Proceeds from the ticket sales will go toward funding the museum’s historical collections management.

• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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