News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 31, 2014

Society dinner gives public a look at museum plans

Museum set to move after more than half-century in historic Sage House

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “Our Future History Begins Now.”

That was the title of the presentation by leaders of the Vigo County Historical Society and Museum Friday night during its annual dinner held at Clabber Girl in downtown Terre Haute.

The presentation, which followed dinner and the society’s board meeting, explained to about 70 attendees the plans for the museum’s new home, where they intend to keep preserving and telling the story of Vigo County’s past.

And if everything goes to plan, the new museum could “optimistically” open in Spring 2015, said Gary Greiner, board president.

A lot of progress has been made over the past year in planning for the museum, Greiner said, so “we are ready to kick this off in high gear.”

Executive Director Marylee Hagan took the guests on a virtual tour of the “spacious, tech-savvy museum that we envision.”

“Vigo County Historical Society is a small organization with a big dream,” Hagan said. “A dream that can be accomplished by the individuals and business that are the fabric of our community.”

She also spoke about the museum’s 57 years at its current location and the many people — including thousands of school children — it has reached annually.

The Vigo County Historical Society was established in 1922. Members used to meet at homes and the Emeline Fairbanks Library. After purchasing the house at 1411 South Sixth Street in 1957, with funds donated by the Hulman Foundation and Vigo County residents, the museum had its grand opening on May 11, 1958.

But the historic mansion that currently houses the museum has its limitations.

Space is one of them.

And with the collection now spanning over 100,000 items, “it is time for a change,” Hagan said. The museum is also hoping to reach out to a broader audience, particularly the young people.

The plans for the new museum to be housed at the former Glidden Furniture store on 929 Wabash Avenue — ideally located near the Arts Corridor and other museums — will offer more space and be fully ADA accessible. It will also be incorporating new technology, which is an important addition in this high tech world, Hagan said.

But it would also have to generate income in order to support itself.

Admission to the current museum has been free for years, but the new museum will charge an admission fee of $5 for adults, Hagan said.

Plans for the new museum — which Hagan emphasized are not set in stone — may include an auditorium, an events/ flex space, a soda fountain, and various exhibits that tell Vigo County’s military history, haunted history, business and industry, sports and schools, notable people, and much more.

“Terre Haute and Vigo County rallied in 1957 to support our first county museum,” Hagan said. “We’re asking that today’s community will partner with us as we create the new Vigo County Historical Museum.”

Attendees of the dinner asked several questions — from the group’s timeline to more details about the auditorium and events space.

But they also applauded the society’s plans, particularly its choice of the historic downtown site.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s a much-needed addition to downtown Terre Haute,” said one attendee, Grace Findley.

Findley added that preserving history is very important, particularly for the young people.

Others also praised the Society’s efforts.

“I’d like to really thank the Historical Society for saving part of our downtown fabric,” Fred Nation told the attendees.

Nation said the choice of the historic building is both environmentally-friendly and a nod to the community’s history and heritage.

He said the museum will “probably give the building another hundred years of life.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.