Indiana county’s museum nearly out of room for donated items

Johnson County Museum of History, formerly a Masonic Temple, in Franklin, Indiana. It was built in 1922 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) – The vestiges of local history crowd two floors of the Johnson County Museum of History, which is quickly running out of space.

Dozens of wedding and christening gowns worn by county residents are neatly bagged and packaged away next to boxes of hats and donated agriculture equipment used decades ago by county farmers. Sewing machines that made clothes and linens that have long since faded are next to vintage washers and dryers and furniture that was used in county homes.

About 60,000 artifacts are categorized in acid-free boxes at the museum. Chairs and paintings donated to the museum over the course of nearly 100 years hang on the walls of the storage spaces at the museum.

Since 1931, the museum has been taking donations from county residents to fill the five permanent exhibits and one seasonal exhibit space at the museum on Franklin’s Main Street. Artifacts also fill the hallways, walls and main lobby.

But the museum is running out of room to store the county’s treasures, and museum workers say they need storage space to continue to fill out their artifact collection and help the museum transition into the future.

Museums cannot stay static, and must continue to collect items that could be used to share all kinds of local history. School groups that come in are encouraged to think about what a museum exhibit on the year 2019 would look like as the museum needs to collect items from recent history too, said David Pfeiffer, museum director.

“We are starting to get to the end of the available space here,” he said.

The Johnson County Historical Society and the county are working together to build a 36 square foot-by-48 square foot or about 1,700 foot storage building on the northeast side of the Johnson County Fairgrounds that would house artifacts that the museum does not use as frequently, such as china and some furniture.

Johnson County’s historical society is a nonprofit organization that lists its mission to collect and preserve materials from Johnson County’s history, according to the museum’s website.

The move would allow museum officials to continue to take in more current artifacts to make sure county residents who visit the museum decades from now can learn about current history.

The historical society is paying for the building that’s estimated to cost about $96,000, while the county is providing the land near Heritage Hall at the fairgrounds. No taxpayer money will be used on the storage facility, County Commissioner Brian Baird said.

An estimated 3 percent of the museum’s collection of items is actually displayed at the museum. Most of the other items take up two floors of the museum, Pfeiffer said.

A vintage truck expected to be in Franklin’s Christmas parade is parked at a board member’s home. Larger pieces of vintage agriculture equipment are stored in a barn at Johnson County Park.

Curators change out the items every so often to get more on display and give long-used artifacts breaks from light and dust, which could damage them. The museum also has a rotating exhibit where items not constantly on display in permanent exhibits come out, and artifacts in the permanent exhibit are changed out too, Pfeiffer said.

“We never want to be the museum where people come once and never come back,” said Emily Spuhler, museum curator.

Museum workers and volunteers take in between 150 and 200 donations every year. Some donations are one or two items, while other donations are homes full of items. Workers who process the donations have had to be more choosy about what items they will accept, Spuhler said.

Some donations are only accepted if the item has a direct relationship to Johnson County and showcases the county’s history in some way, she said.

Meanwhile, the museum is short of other items they could use, such as toys from the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they have other gaps in their collection they would like to fill. Call-outs for those items are delayed due to the space issue, Spuhler said.

The museum would also like to seek donations for very recent events that could be exhibited in the future, such as items from Center Grove’s state football win, the bicentennial and the Google Summit in Franklin, Pfeiffer said.

“It is trying to keep stuff like that in mind,” he said.

Museum workers could work out fixes that would allow them to take in items at the same rate for a few years, but ultimately, those fixes would be temporary, Pfeiffer said.

“We really do need storage for five to 10 years from now,” Spuhler said.

At historical society meetings, the idea that space was needed and how to get it evolved over time, Pfeiffer said.

One idea was to purchase an old house in downtown Franklin and store items there. But some artifacts might be hard to move into rooms, and an old house likely would not have the climate control with low humidity that the items need for preservation purposes, he said.

Board members eventually decided the cheaper and more viable option would be to build a space that could be designed to the artifacts’ needs. The building will be temperature controlled, with wire shelving similar to what is used at the museum.


Daily Journal (Franklin, Ind.)

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