Over the last few years, a team of volunteers has transformed the Daviess County Museum located on Main Street from a collection of artifacts into an interactive destination for those wanting to know more about the history of the area.
It’s thanks to the work of those volunteers who have provided hundreds of hours of service that the museum has earned recognition from the Indiana Historical Society. Now, on Nov. 4, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis, the museum will be honored with the 2019 Outstanding Historical Organization Award during the annual Founders Day Dinner.
The award annually honors a local or county historical society, organizer, or site in the Hoosier state that has demonstrated remarkable public service and programs to its community.
“This is the first time we have been recognized by the state,” said Rose Palmer, one of the museum’s volunteers, who said the recognition would not have been possible without the help and dedication of many volunteers.
Palmer said four years ago, volunteers filled the main exhibit space on the second floor with many of the museum’s artifacts and began the process of trying to organize and catalog what was there.
“We literally took everything we had and lined up on tables so we could inventory what we had,” said Palmer.
Don Cosby, county historian, said when the museum moved from Longfellow School and into its current location, there were no real inventory records and nothing was kept on a computer.
“Everything was moved in pick-up trucks,” he said adding that due to a leaking roof at the former school, several documents in the possession were lost to damage. “There’s been a lot of progress made since then.”
Fellow volunteer Becky Kremp said as that inventory process was happening, the museum began reaching out to the state for some assistance, and it was through those talks with the state that volunteers learned about cataloging software called PastPerfect.
“Thanks to Daviess County Economic Development, we are able to get PastPerfect,” said Kremp, who said volunteer Bruce Smith has been instrumental in helping with the cataloging of the thousands of items in the museum’s collection. “Now, we had several trainings and workshops offered through the state to help us know what to do.”
Smith said currently about 11,500 artifacts have been cataloged and roughly 9,500 have been added to the museum’s online collection.
“That’s only a small percentage of what we have here,” said Smith, who said thanks to the website, daviesscounty.pastperfectonline.com, people from around the world can view some of the artifacts in possession of the museum that is also open to the public from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Kremp said part of what helped the museum earn the honor was its attention to using best practices to keep its collection safe for years to come.
“That was really a big part of it,” said Kremp who said the museum had to submit a scrapbook detailing its work over the last three years as well as several letters of recommendation to even be considered for the honor. “When the state society was here a couple of weeks ago, they said it was best practices and our lightning speed that helped us earn the recognition.”
In those recommendation letters, the Indiana Historical Society learned more about the process it took to morph the museum into what it is today.
In his letter, Daviess County Commissioner Nathan Gabhart said four years ago, he was appalled at the museum.
“The condition of the museum was a disaster to say the least and was embarrassing at best,” wrote Gabhart. “It had fallen into a state of disrepair and was not being supervised properly.”
At that point, Gabhart said he was ready to pull the organization’s funding from the county. Then the transformation began.
“Fast forward, during the next couple of years a group of volunteers stepped up and literally performed a miracle on the museum. It’s now a wonderful place to visit and is something we can all be proud of,” said Gabhart who said he went from wanting to shut down the museum to giving his own money as a donor.
Jim R. Osborne, curator of the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, in his letter of support commended volunteers for the making the transformation so quickly.
“I have never seen a museum improve and transform in such a steady and rapid pace as what the Daviess County Museum has,” wrote Osborne, who said the methods and approaches used by volunteers were first class.
In addition to working on cataloging its collection, the museum has also started hosting several programs for patrons of all ages over the last couple of years. It’s also become a destination for school field trips, reunions and more.
To celebrate its honor, the museum will host “Shared Treasures: An Evening with Daviess County Collectors” on Oct. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Volunteer Linda Cornelius said over 20 displays will feature the collections of those with ties to Daviess County.
“If we don’t take care of our treasures today, then we cannot share them tomorrow,” said Cornelius who said the event is free and open the public. On display will be many items from the Washington Coca Cola Bottling Plant, artwork from local artisans, tractor collections, dinosaur claws and more.
“We are really excited about this event and we have something for everyone from 9 years old to 90,” said Cornelius who said the annual membership drive will also take place that evening. “And the owners of the eclectic collections will be on hand that evening to answer questions.”
Memberships, which range from $25 for individuals to $1,000 for corporate partners, can be purchased during the event.
For those unable to attend the Thursday evening program, displays will remain in place through Saturday.
“We will have most of the collections still on display through the weekend,” said Kremp, who said the Coca Cola items, as well as Harold Allison’s collection of fossils will remain on display a little longer.
For more information on the Daviess County Museum call 812-257-0301 or visit www.daviesscountyhistory.com.