As you open the front door you are met with the intoxicating smell of old leather and the feeling you’ve stepped back in time. The vintage cowboy regalia is everywhere; it’s hard to take it all in at first. Your eyes jump from old photographs and antique saddles to vintage slot machines and timeworn spurs.
You’ve probably driven past Tom’s Cabin at the foot of Memorial Hill in Midway many, many times. The old cabin looks like a prop from a Western movie, but inside is trove of real cowboy and Native American treasures.
Tom and Linda Whitaker started collecting Western antiques when they got married more than 30 years ago.
“We love stopping in to antique stores wherever we go,” says Tom. “Linda has a great eye and every town has an antique store, so the collection grew quick.”
Their private collection is of museum quality; each display carefully thought through, staged and preserved. The pride gleaned from such a beautiful and expansive collection can be heard in Tom’s voice as he talks about different items.
A staircase lined with old cowboy boots leads the way to the upstairs — a recreated brothel where any Old West madam would have felt right at home. Perfume and medicine bottles meticulously line the antique dresser, dresses and hats sit on mannequins and tokens for services sit at the foot of the bed. Tom picks up a broch acquired during a recent a trip and explains how the brothel collection came together.
“A friend had collected a lot of the items and we purchased it all from him knowing it would make a great display. Everything is here a madam may have had,” Tom says as he picks up an old folding fan. “You can just imagine them sitting the in window fanning themselves. We’ve got knitting needles, garters and even the small pistols they kept handy for protection.”
Tom could probably spend a month talking about the history of many of the Whitakers’ historic items — and yet there would still be more to explore. The cabin itself was once a barn and a photograph of the original structure hangs proudly on the wall as you walk in, reminding visitors of the humble beginnings from which this picturesque place started.
As Tom walks through the different rooms — pointing out special guns, chaps and spurs — the Wild West comes to life. His passion for the past and stories about the thrill of finding different relics is contagious. Those lucky enough to get a glimpse inside can confirm that the private collection is extensive and impressive — and the rest of us will just have to rely on pictures to tell the story of what’s inside Tom’s Cabin. The Whitakers’ cowboy museum is open a couple times a year to the public. Over the years, they’ve hosted private events and concerts at the cabin.