Past and Present
The history of Železný Brod Museum stretches back to the late 19th century, when the collection was gradually accumulated from a number of sources. During this time, preparations for a collection of ethnographic material for the Czechoslovak Ethnographic Exhibition in Prague (1895) were at their peak, and the Železný Brod District Department of the Czechoslovak Ethnographic Exhibition also contributed. Following the conclusion of the Exhibition, some of the collection was returned to Železný Brod. The local community of craftsmen – owners of historical artefacts of the abolished craft guilds such as the guild of heraldic flags, seals, treasuries and archival materials – also contributed to the exhibition. Guild artefacts predominated in the collections, which is why in the beginning the museum was referred to as the Trade Museum. At the time, the collections were stored in the Town Hall, albeit without any records. And they were stored in the true sense of the word, because there was no representative museum exhibition of any kind. Museums of that era generally resembled accessible depositories with items more or less in order. What’s more, even within the Town Hall the collections were occasionally moved around. Following the redevelopment of the Town Hall in 1901, the collections still remained in the building and the first inventory was completed with the help of students.
It was only when the town decided to provide classrooms for the pupils of the girls’ school that the Trade Museum was forced to leave the Town Hall. The town became the patron of the museum and the name was changed to the Municipal Trades Museum. The museum moved from the Town Hall to the boys’ school building opposite, where it was housed until 1926. Subsequently, it acquired premises in the newly built glass school building from the Pojizerský Industrial Export Institute. Also in 1926, a steering group was formed with the aim of founding a museum association in Železný Brod, which would take care of the collections gathered so far. It took eight years of activity to bring the plan to fruition.
The Museum Association
On 23 October, 1934, the inaugural meeting of the Museum Association was held in the Town Hall. The newly established association took over the management of all the collections of the existing Municipal Trade Museum mentioned above. The establishment of the association marked a major breakthrough in the organisation of museum activities in Železný Brod. A clearly articulated concept replaced the former collectors’ inconsistent approach. After the initial rather amateur and overenthusiastic attempts, this was a further step towards making the activities of the museum professional. In its approach to collections, the museum focused on the Železný Brod region not limiting itself to ethnographic items, and collecting natural and artistic, historical and archaeological objects. In 1936 the museum moved again, fortunately only a short distance away. In that year, the new Town Savings Bank building was completed and, thanks to its director and Museum Association member Jaroslav Hudský, there was enough space to install and store the museum collections. The exclusivity of the premises is evidenced by the fact that the museum is still housed there to this day. During the Second World War the museum premises were temporarily occupied by the German army and the museum was not open to visitors or members of the association. However, the museum was reopened almost immediately after the end of the war.
During the 1950s, when the new political regime ruthlessly abolished all associations (Sokol, Junák, etc), the museum continued to function under the auspices of the Museum Association and the patronage of the town. Cooperation between the association and the National Committee was certainly not ideal: political pressure culminated especially after 1948, when the local National Front Action Committee raised objections against the long-standing officials of the Museum Association and forced them to resign. The existence of the association in the 1950s was largely academic and lasted until 1957, when the museum administration, in a letter dated 29 January 1957, announced the dissolution of the Museum Association. Simultaneously, the Circle of Friends of the Museum was established at the Železný Brod Educational Society. This closed the chapter of the existence of the Museum Association founded on the basis of volunteer work. The collection was nationalised and the museum was incorporated into the administration of the town.
The museum was facing a difficult time. The museum sector was not spared from general state planning and regulation, and many small town museums were forcibly closed. As the structure of the museum network changed, the museum in Železný Brod was considered a regional ethnographic museum. However, the museum experienced numerous challenges in its operation, and František Sochor, long-time chronicler, archivist, museologist and teacher, reports that it was even considered for closure. Fortunately, this did not happen and the museum in Železný Brod was designated as an ethnographic museum for the Upper Pojizeří region. In 1967, the museum’s displays were reinstalled and priority was given to the presentation of ethnographic collections. The museum changed its name to the Ethnographic Museum of the Upper Pojizeří. Renowned expert PhDr. Josef V. Scheybal from the North Bohemian Museum in Liberec wrote the texts for the new exhibitions.
The displays remained in this format until the late 1990s. Around this time, an extensive restoration of the Běliště timbered house was initiated, a building which had been considered as suitable for the presentation of ethnographic collections since the 1960s. The premises of the existing main museum building were vacated and used to install the hitherto neglected glass collections. And the Ethnographic Museum of the Upper Pojizeří became the Municipal Museum again.
In addition to collecting artefacts for the museum, members of the former Museum Association also worked to create a research library by the acquisition of scholarly publications. The expansion of the library was aided by a generous donation of local history researcher and parish priest, Father Jan Hrdý, who in 1940 donated a large part of his scholarly library of 456 volumes, mostly historiographical works, early editions and church records. The library was further enlarged by acquisitions, bequests and book transfers from the local municipal library and by 1943 it contained over three thousand volumes. Currently, part of this historical museum library is located in the State District Archive in Jablonec nad Nisou.