By Martha Bladen
Connecting to Switzerland County’s past was big news this year, with Bicentennial projects, activities and celebrations receiving major attention throughout 2013. So this is a great time to reflect on the state of historic preservation in our county and see its importance in our future.
The Switzerland County Historical Society welcomed over 4,000 visitors to the Historical Museum, the “Life on the Ohio” River History Museum and the Thiebaud farmstead this year. They came from 30 states and 11 countries.
Our mission is to preserve, protect and promote the history of Switzerland County, Indiana. We are firm believers in the importance cultural heritage tourism can play in the economic development of our county. But our museums are just part of the story. The architectural fabric from the courthouse and town hall to churches and barns to historic homes and business buildings, are all valuable resources.
Potential for our future can be illustrated by some of the preservation successes that are part of the fascinating and complex story of Switzerland County.
The Thiebaud house, the Schenck Mansion, the Hoosier Theater and Venoge are all National Register Historic Sites that were rescued from vacancy and neglect. All have been revitalized by restoration and are now part of the business community.
Besides the historical society, there are other preservation organizations working hard in our county with economic development as part of their focus.
Vevay Main Street has a grants program that has stimulated restoration in Vevay’s historic downtown. Patriot Main Street is making steady progress on revitalizing their downtown.
Musee de Venoge, an Indiana 501c3 not-for-profit, is a developing center for research, education and historic preservation – a museum, historic park and nature preserve. This restoration success has welcomed about 800 visitors to events this year, and was involved in the filming of a George Rogers Clark video by Ball State University. Venoge and the Thiebaud farmstead were recently part of a filming for the upcoming Bicentennial of Indiana.
The historical society and Musee de Venoge have strengthened each other by joining together for special events. We also strive to find hands-on ways for people to experience history and have fun in the process.
Preservation isn’t just architecture. Our Switzerland County museums conserve and display the objects and honor the everyday lives of those who lived here. Our collection continues to grow and broaden as people donate items that help tell our history.
While historic preservation is the work of organizations, those organizations are composed of people throughout the community and other interested supporters who understand its value and want to be part of the preservation efforts in Switzerland County.
Individuals preserving their own story and history, through gathering their genealogy, cherishing family heirlooms or caring for the family photographs (label and document) is another way to support preservation. House restorations, large and small, are part of the growing preservation movement.
The Switzerland County Historical Society has made major progress over the last ten years. We opened the “Life on the Ohio” River History Museum, renovated the historical museum, and restored the Thiebaud house. Major grants from outside our area helped make it happen because there was local buy-in through donations, memberships and local funding for not-for-profits.
‘Progress in the future depends on the
ongoing combined efforts of all entities’
I can’t emphasis that enough. We need and welcome new members. We need volunteers. We need the financial support from the Revenue Sharing Funds distributed by the County, the Town of Vevay and Switzerland County Tourism. All contributed to our past success.
This quote borrowed from the National Trust for Historic Preservation website pleads our case:
“Heritage tourism helps make historic preservation economically viable by using historic structures and landscapes to attract and serve travelers. Heritage tourism can be an attractive economic revitalization strategy, especially as studies have consistently shown that heritage travelers stay longer and spend more money than other kinds of travelers. As an added bonus, a good heritage tourism program improves the quality of life for residents as well as serving visitors.”
Thanks to the National Trust, the historical society received the challenge grant that enabled the restoration of the Thiebaud house. They contacted us, then helped us through the process.
If we can be of help with your preservation questions please feel free to contact us: Martha Bladen, Director of Switzerland County Historical Society 427-3560; Donna Weaver, President of Musee de Venoge 427-9404; Michele Thompson, Director of Vevay Main Street 427-9406.
Join us in the historic preservation of Switzerland County. We could lament the many architectural losses but prefer to engage in a positive future.