Musee de Venoge wins prestigious award from Indiana Landmarks

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Indiana Landmarks has announced that Musee de Venoge in Switzerland County has been honored as the recipient of it’s 2021 Sandi Servaas Memorial Award. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in historic preservation; and will bring statewide and regional attention to Musee de Venoge and all of Switzerland County.

  In making the announcement, Indiana Landmarks said: “Vevay’s Musée de Venoge is a rare example of early French Colonial architecture in Indiana. Constructed in 1828 in the French-Swiss settlement in Switzerland County, the decaying house was targeted by the local fire department for fire-fighting exercises before Musée de Venoge, Inc., stepped in to save it. It took the all-volunteer organization nearly twenty years to restore the structure — now listed in the National Register of Historic Places — and develop engaging and interactive programming providing further insight into the area’s heritage.

  “Intensive research identified letters of the house’s first occupant,” the release continues. “Guiding interpretation of the site as the home of a middle-class family of the early nineteenth century. The group created the documentary ‘To Make a Beginning,’ based on the home and letters. They also share short videos highlighting the structure’s preservation and history on their YouTube channel.”

  “This extraordinary multi-year effort saved an important part of Indiana heritage that could have easily been lost,” said Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.

  The prestigious state award includes a $2,00 cash award; and Venoge will also receive the original sculpture “No Doors to Lock Out the Past” by Evansville sculptor John McNaughton.

  “Well it’s something that means an awful lot to us, because it’s specifically for historic preservation and efforts to share the history that we learn with the area,” Donna Weaver, Director of Musee de Venoge. “It’s something that we’ve wanted for so long. We’re so proud and happy to have received it this year. It’s a big one in the state.”

  Weaver said that with all of the adjustments of the past year, getting an award like this while not being able to have visitors come to Venoge and speak with them means a lot.

  “This still gives us some recognition and let’s people know that there’s something here,” Weaver said. “Especially the people of Switzerland County. It (Venoge) looks like nothing. It’s a tiny little place; but it’s a cog in the wheel. It and a lot of other little houses that are long gone made Switzerland County what it is today. That’s something that’s very important to us — to have saved this place.”

  Weaver said that since the award is statewide, the winners each year are noticed by a lot of groups and a lot of people — which means Switzerland County will get noticed, not just Venoge.

  “I think that’s important, too, because we’ve got a really nifty history down here,” Weaver said. “It’s early history, compared to other parts of the state, so it’s important to let them know that we’re down here. ‘Hey! Look at us! We’ve got something!’”

  Weaver said that there will be an official presentation of the award at a later date. She said that normally Indiana Landmarks makes the presentation at its annual meeting, usually held in late summer, but because of COVID the meeting may take place virtually.

  As a part of the honor, photos of Musee de Venoge will be shown prominently on Indiana Landmarks webpage.

  Weaver said that the $2,000 prize will go right into the House, which is undergoing another restoration currently in preparation for the premiere of the original film, “To Make A Beginning” which will be held this Saturday, July 31st.

  “We’re hoping to fill the theater, tickets are free,” Weaver said. “Go to Venoge’s web page and click on ‘Details Here’.”

  After the premiere on Saturday evening, Venoge will host an after party featuring a chance to meet members of the cast; refreshments; and a chance to tour Venoge and see the actual locations where the history of the film took place. 

  “A lot of the letters were written right there,” Weaver said. “As Hamilton says, ‘It’s the room where it happened’. Jacob Weaver sat there and wrote those letters. It’s neat just to think about that. I used to be 100-percent enamored by the architecture, and now that I’ve learned more about the family, I can see that family in that house. That is a different perspective, and that’s one of the things we’d like to get across the people — a real family with real problems and real successes; and they wrote letters. We are privileged to be able to read what they wrote.”