The State legislature awarded $6,000 to the State Historical Society in Columbia in 1915 to collect the history of the 114 counties in Missouri for the State Centennial anniversary. In June 1916, the Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce elected five prominent businessmen with support from the Missouri Writers Guild for Chillicothe to attend the event and formed the first Livingston County Historical Society in the city, but the historical society did not have space to call its own until many years later.
In the Fall of 1954, George W. Somerville decided to organize a Historical Society in Chillicothe. He generated the idea after accumulating historical books from the Scott Foresman publisher company he worked for and retired from. He gathered newspapers, pamphlets, historic maps, volume sets of the Missouri Historical Review published by the State Historical Society in Columbia, and a copy of the books of the History of Mercer and Harrison Counties and Livingston County. Somerville planned to name the organization the Grand River Historical Society or the Livingston County Historical Society. He had extensive knowledge of Missouri history and he hoped to catalog the materials he collected.
George Wesley Somerville was born in Newtown, Missouri in Mercer County on January 31, 1890. His parents were Oliver Brown Somerville (1861-1939) of Johnsburg, Warren County, New York and Susan Norris Combs Somerville (1864-1938) of Mercer County, Missouri. The couple married on January 13, 1884 and had nine children. George W. Somerville was educated in Princeton, Missouri and he became a teacher at the age of 16 and taught in winters in a rural school and attended college in the summers. From 1910 to 1917, he served as the principal for the public schools in Princeton, Maryville, and Jamesport, Missouri. On December 5, 1917, during the First World War, Somerville married Miss Elsie Mae Smith from Jamesport at Princeton, Missouri. They had two sons: Ronald L. Somerville and George Wesley Somerville Jr., and a daughter, Mrs. Harry (Carolyn) Zimmerman. While finishing up his superintendent winter term for Jamesport High School, Somerville enlisted in the U.S. Army as a supply petty officer and was assigned to Camp Johnston in Jacksonville, Florida in 1918. When Somerville returned to Maryville, Missouri, after the war, he became superintendent of the Hopkins School until he resigned in 1921 when he moved his family to Chillicothe, Missouri. In 1923, Somerville began working as a traveling salesman of school textbooks for the Scott Foresman Book Company. In the 1930s and 1940s he was a member of the Travelers Protective Association, the Livingston County Republican Committee, and a director of the Chillicothe State Bank.
Somerville hosted a city meeting that was held at the Livingston County Memorial Library on November 16, 1954 to discuss the establishment of a historical society. Somerville highlighted the need for the creation of historical society in northern Missouri and Livingston County to gather, preserve, and make available historical information. On February 14, 1955, the Grand River Historical Society and Museum (GRHSM) was formally established, and Somerville became president of the organization. Public quarterly meetings were held at the Community Room of the Chillicothe State Bank and the Livingston County Library with guest speakers lecturing on county history. In October 1955, Floyd C. Shoemaker, secretary of the Missouri State Historical Society, spoke to the Grand River Historical Society and Museum and advised them on how to create a historical society that would preserve historical materials and focus on local history. In October 1957, the GRHSM partnered with several businesses to display small exhibits of historical objects in their windows. That same month, the Society received its first donation for its future museum. On December 4, 1957, the Grand River Historical Society and Museum was incorporated by the state, which allowed them to receive gifts officially and establish a board of directors. In January 1966, George W. Somerville passed away and the new position of the president of the Historical Society was elected. Somerville was passionate about Missouri history and Livingston County and under his leadership he organized the second historical society in the region by reaching out to the surrounding community and developing partnerships in the region. His ultimate dream was to establish a physical museum to ensure the preservation and accessibility of the items that he had acquired and the items that others in the community had donated to the museum.
In January 1969, the Livingston County Memorial Library in the old Federal Building, provided space on the second floor for the Grand River Historical Society and Museum to store and exhibit their materials. A historical room was dedicated to George W. Somerville. An increase in materials and a lack of space necessitated a new location for the museum. In 1971, the GRHSM proposed a possible site for the museum in Simpson Park, but they lacked the funds. By 1972, the exhibit rooms in the library were open to the public and during this time the organization began a fundraising campaign to secure money for a new museum building. In 1978, the GRHSM purchased the Murray Windle storage building on Forest Drive and Irving Avenue and decided to remodel the building for use as a museum. The remodeling began on November 2, 1978, and the museum was completed between April and May 1979. It was a forty by eighty structure with the front of the building featuring a brick colonial style and the inside finished with new wiring, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning.
In May 1979, the artifacts and historic material collections were transferred from the Livingston County Memorial Library to the new museum on Forest Drive where they were cataloged and arranged and new exhibits created. The Grand River Historical Society and Museum building was dedicated in a public ceremony and opened on September 23, 1979. Special guests included Judge Ronald L. Somerville, one of the sons of the late founder, George W. Somerville, and Dr. Richard Brownlee, executive secretary of the Missouri State Historical Society. Today, the Grand River Historical Society and Museum welcomes visitors from organizations, schools, educators, and patrons.