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I'm the Local Gal in Richmond, Indiana, exploring my hometown and heart. I write about all thing local, sometimes global. It's a small world after all.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Historical Local Lady & Her Russian "Sister"

Richmond, Indiana is a city hungry for history. We have a Football Hall of Fame, designated Historical Districts with fabulous architectural details, several published local historians, the Wayne County Historical Museum, Starr-Gennett Jazz History destinations and more! With all these things considered, you know we just can't get enough! How fun to dabble a bit and do some historical research myself, Local-Lady Style.

Here we go:

Here's the tale of two "sisters" who never met, yet they had much in common. If only we could travel in time & set them together for tea. Time is not the only barrier. Distance and language separate us too, but I can imagine. These women would have so much to talk about!

Julia Meek-Gaar: Photo Courtesy of WCHM/MRL

Julia Meek-Gaar lived in Richmond during a prosperous time. Julia married into the prominent, wealthy Gaar family who built their mini Hoosier empire by lead manufacturing threshing machines and steam engines in the 1840's.

Julia Meek may have been born in Iowa, but her family retained ties to the city of Richmond. During a visit, she met & fell in love with William Wallace Gaar. They were married in what was described as "the social event of the season", their elegant wedding in the year 1882. The young, prominent couple were among as many as 47 millionaires living in Richmond at that time. Their life together was not always elegant, and like so many real life romantic tales, it ended with some bitter disappointments.

Due to her husband's health issues, Will and Julia lived separate lives after their eighth year of marriage. For several years, she remained in Richmond as a single mother. However, when her son grew, she set off to travel the world and became a passionate collector. With her valuable souvenirs, she founded a unique museum with exhibits offering glimpses of the wide world beyond Richmond. The Wayne County Historical Museum is perhaps most famous for housing one of the last Egyptian mummies brought to the United States legally. Julia dedicated herself to acquiring and maintaining what Richmond enjoys today as a fun and educational museum experience. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe another woman had found herself on a similar path.

Mikhail Shankov: A Portrait of Anna Vasilevna Maraeva (2010)
 That woman, Anna Marayeva lived in Serpukhov, Russia, a city just outside of Moscow, which was founded (disputably) in the medieval era. In comparison to Serpukhov's ancient history, Richmond is a very young community. Serpukhov and Richmond were to become "Sister Cities", but that was long after Julia and her Russian counterpart Anna lived.  The Marayeva family built their empire on textiles, becoming one of the wealthiest families in their region.

When Anna's husband died, he left her in charge of the estate. To keep charge of her wealth was a battle, however. Reputably, a brother-in-law took Anna to court, attempting to acquire all of her late husband's assets. Anna spent large amounts of her money, before and during the legal battle that waged. She built a lavish mansion, and she too became an avid collector.

Anna, like many of her business merchant peers was very religious. Her passion was in seeking out ancient religious iconic art. Anna won the battle over money and went on in 1919 to nationalize her collection, which has gone on to expand and enjoy much acclaim. The mansion she built houses a collection that nearly makes tracing the evolution of Russian painting under one roof possible.

Anna Marayeva and Julia Meek-Gaar both lived in the XIX Century. Both lived their lives as single women who leveraged their resources to do more and see more than many of their peers. Both went on to found treasured community resources: The Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond and the Serpukhov Museum of History and Art, both still active today.

Although these women did not speak the same language, live in the same country or exist in the same time as we do in our current day, their similar experiences and interests, despite their differences, are a testament to the fact that it's a small world after all. The range of human emotions is not so wide that we cannot all find common ground as people no matter where, when or who we might be.

The motto of Sister Cities International is "Connect Globally. Thrive Locally.", may Richmond and her Sister Cities continue to connect and thrive. 

The Sister Cities Program in Richmond has existed since 1988. For a brief history of Richmond, Indiana's ties to Russia visit Neighbors East and West.

Photos of Serpukhov History and Art Museum, Serpukhov
This photo of Serpukhov History and Art Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Wayne County Historical Museum on a Penny Postcard: Image Source

Check back at the Local-Lady, a Hyper Local Richmond Blog, for more Stories Soon!

<3 the Local Gal


As this is not a formal research paper, I have not included references. With interested parties, I'm happy to share more information & links! 

Special thanks to the Reference Desk at Morrison Reeves Library for their help in locating research materials in regards to Julia Meek-Gaar. Thank you! 

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