Fayette Elementary third-grader Holton DeLattre used a flashlight to peer inside the dark mausoleum exhibit that held Stiffy Green, the loyal bulldog that wouldn’t leave its master’s side, even after his death — or so the Terre Haute legend goes.

“That’s pretty cool,” DeLattre said during a field trip to the new Vigo County Historical Museum History Center, which opened its doors this week. One of the exhibit areas is titled, “Haunted Legends,” and that’s where the legend of Stiffy Green lives on, much to the delight of school children.

New history museum a big hit with young visitors

Looking: Fayette Elementary third-graders Maddy Robinson, front, and Raigann Bull, back, use flashlights to see illuminate Stiffy Green during the class’ tour of the new Vigo County Historical Museum History Center on Wednesday.Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza

The three-story, 34,000-square-foot History Center, located at 929 Wabash Ave., was originally built in 1895 to house Ehrmann Manufacturing Co. In 2013, the Historical Society purchased it and began a capital fundraising campaign to renovate/rehabilitate it. The project cost is more than $3 million.

The History Center is having a “soft opening” this week, with a formal ribbon-cutting scheduled for Nov. 19.

The first groups to visit this week have been Vigo County School Corp. third-graders as part of previously planned field trips connected to the third-grade social science curriculum, which focuses on community. On Wednesday, students from Fayette, DeVaney and Consolidated Elementary schools had their turn.

The young visitors learned about Historic Hauteans, including Paul Dresser, Theodore Dreiser, Eugene Debs and Max Ehrmann.

They walked down 1940s Main Street — Wabash Avenue — complete with a Meis Store, movie theatre, telegraph office and general store.

Students heard about the impact of River, Roads and Rails in making Terre Haute a major Indiana city.

And, the third-graders visited an exhibit celebrating Terre Haute’s role as the “birthplace” of the original Coca-Cola bottle, which was created in 1915 by The Root Glass Company. The business won a competition in which it created the glass Coke bottle’s distinctive contoured design.

“The experience here has been really incredible so far with the kids,” said Susan Tingley, who will soon take over the role as executive director; she has been development director. The spacious History Center provides more “room to move.”

The children are loving it and learning a lot about local history, she said. In the third floor auditorium, they are watching a video about Paul Dresser, Terre Haute native and author of the state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away.”

The children especially enjoy exhibits or displays of Stiffy Green; Fort Harrison and the battle fought there in the War of 1812; a turn-of-the-century pharmacy; the Coca Cola display and the impact of philanthropist Chauncey Rose on Terre Haute.

New history museum a big hit with young visitors

A reflection in local history: Fayette Elementary third-grader Max Mundell, 9, lower right, is reflected in a photograph of Paul Dresser during his class’ tour of the Vigo County Historical Museum History Center on Wednesday on Wabash Avenue.Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza

“I overheard a child say, ‘I wish we could have been here for two hours’,” Tingley said.

Fayette teacher Rose Robins said third grade social studies focuses on Indiana, and in particular, local history and community. “It’s amazing,” she said of what the History Center has to offer. Instead of reading about it, the students “see some of the real, actual history right in front of them ... I think it makes much more of an impact.”

Among those impressed by what he saw was Emmanuel Chambers, one of Robins’ students. “It’s great. You can learn so much stuff about back in the older days,” he said. Stiffy Green was a highlight for him.

Bralyn Blystone especially liked the Coca Cola display room and learning about Chauncey Rose; among other endeavors, Rose built and endowed the Rose Polytechnic Institute, now the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Blystone said she plans to return to the History Center “many times.”

Tingley said the History Center “is an opportunity for the community to learn so much more about our local history and have a pride in our local history.” Many people from Terre Haute “have done some amazing things here in our community, and for our country and for the whole world.”

Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications, said, “We know that hands-on experiences really matter to reinforce our curriculum, and to have a space like this to add to our field trip collection we have is invaluable.”

A destination like the History Center makes curriculum “click into place” for students and it also makes them better citizens, he said.

He relayed one story about a boy who pointed to a picture of the Vigo County Courthouse and said, “That’s where I got adopted. That’s where I got my family.” Hearing the story “gives me chills,” Riley said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

New history museum a big hit with young visitors

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaThe fashion of the day: Third-graders from Fayette Elementary react to the style of clothing on display in the front window of a general store on the Vigo County Historical Museum’s History Center’s main street on Wednesday.

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