Switzerland County Historical Society presents plans for museum development

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The Switzerland County Historical Society held its June meeting this past Monday, June 6th.

The theme of the meeting was an update on the Historical Society’s Living History/Agriculture Museum project.

The project, already four years in the making, now has a completed comprehensive feasibility study of the Living History/Agriculture Museum, funded by Switzerland County Tourism.

The project is being coordinated by the Living History Committee — or as they refer to themselves — the “Barn Committee.”

The committee consists of Martha Bladen, Jerry Brown, Ellyn Kern, Ginny Reeves, and Tom and Diana Barry.

The focal point of the museum project, according to Jerry Brown, is a Hay Press Barn formerly owned by John and Janet Clark. The barn, which was located on McCreary Ridge, was purchased through a grant from the Switzerland County Council in April, 2001.

The barn was dismantled piece by piece, with each piece being marked, tagged and identified. While the actual date that the barn was built is unknown, it appears to have been built around 1850. The original barn was 58 feet by 58 feet. While the barn had an addition added to it, the historical society will reconstruct the original 58 feet by 58 feet dimensions.

At Monday’s meeting, Jerry Brown stated, “The hay press barn has historical significance to both Switzerland County and the Midwest. Hay was the gasoline of the 1850s. Without hay, the economy would come to a standstill.”

The hay press barn was originally patented by Switzerland County resident Samuel Hewitt. In a later presentation, Diana Barry stated that while the final patent belonged to Samuel Hewitt, at least five Switzerland County residents hold patents that were used in the final hay press development.

The historical society, which has possession of the original patent, felt the reconstruction of the barn should be in a historical setting with easy access for visitors.

The new location — thanks to the generosity of Dow Corning — will be the old Thiebaud Farmstead that was established in 1817.

Dow Corning has deeded the 165-acre farmstead to Switzerland County Historical Society for as long as the property is used as a museum. As an interesting sidelight, Ginny Reeves stated the existing barn on the farmstead originally had a hay press in it.

The historical society has been able to obtain National Historic Register status on both the house and the farmstead.

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Several studies have been completed on the property.

— Archeological studies revealed no Native American artifacts, but did comment on the historical significance of many stone walls located throughout the property, and of the 34 check-dams — whose ultimate function is not clear.

— The ecological study conducted by Tom Swinford of the DNR suggested the property be restored to the original woodlands. For the natural growth of native trees, the “junk” growth will have to be removed.

— The buildings on the property were evaluated by Barker Engineering. Barker reported on the condition of each building, and made recommendations for stabilization or restoration.

— In addition, the Preservation Technology II class from Ball State University evaluated the house and presented their suggestions.

— David Denman, Executive Director of The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana based in Aurora also evaluated the house. All three studies indicate the house is in very poor shape. The foundation has since awarded a $15,000 grant to the historical society to begin stabilization of the Thiebaud house.

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Dianna Berry reported on plans to convert the existing barn to a visitors center. She also reported that the historical society is now in possession of the machinery from the City Roller Mills. The machinery is currently being stored in a pole barn located on the Thiebaud property and will be on display as part of the Living History/Agriculture Museum.

Ellyn Kern explained that the 10 year, $2.5 million project will be completed in four phases. The first phase will include stabilization of the house, beginning restoration of the woodlands and glade, completion of half of the proposed parking lot, and development of a nature walk with the idea of generating some revenue as soon as possible.

Ellyn Kern briefly discussed the other phases and told everyone the complete study and phase plans are available for review at the Historical Society Museum. She also indicated much help is needed. Additional grants will be needed to complete each phase of the project.

In addition, volunteers are needed to do research on the property — its history, its buildings, and its other structures. Volunteers are also needed to help keep the grass mowed and to clear the “junk” plants and trees so that the natural woodlands can be restored. Many other parts of the project, including marketing, are in need of volunteers.

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Other topics discussed at Monday night’s meeting included:

— This years garden tour, titled “Garden Melodies”, is scheduled for Saturday, June 18th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (slow time).

The tour, consisting of seven gardens, begins at the East Enterprise Methodist Church on Route 56 in East Enterprise. Advance tickets are $5. Tickets the day of the tour are $8.

— Mike Cooney