(Posted Dec. 29, 2020)
By Theresa Hennis, Staff Writer
History is not just a collection of dry stories on a page.
Ned DeCamp, director of the Madison County Historical Society Museum, makes the county’s history come alive through the stories he tells about the museum’s collections at 260 E. High St. in London.
“I never know what kind of donation is going to come through the door on any given day,” said DeCamp, who also served on the museum’s board and as president for 10 years.
“I had some historical estate paperwork come through the mail which listed my great-great grandfather, H.W. Smith, as the lawyer who handled the estate. It listed his attorney fees. And one time, we received a Wall Street Journal from 1862 in which one of the commodities listed was French glass. American glass at the time was wavy, with imperfections. French glass was more like our modern glass.”
DeCamp enjoys the stories he pieces together about each historical artifact that comes to the museum, and one of the stories he loves to tell is about a bill of sale for a piano that a Madison County woman bought in 1868 for $460.
“We also have paperwork on a 400-acre farm that sold for a dollar and 10 cents an acre within a month of her buying the piano,” DeCamp said. “She could have had a farm for what she paid for that piano! Even more interesting is the fact that she lived in London during the summer and in Columbus during the winter, and every time she moved, the piano went with her. It would have been carried by horse and buggy at the time. This went on from 1868 to 1899, when she died.”
Stories like those are waiting to be told to anyone who wants to hear more about Madison County’s history. However, with COVID-19 safety concerns and mandates, the non-profit gem that holds so many of the county’s tangible memories is trying to adapt to an uncertain future. The monetary pinch that so many non-profits are experiencing has hit home, as well.
“We’ve lost the school class visits, our fall festival, Christmas celebrations and more,” DeCamp said. “A lot of people told us we should just shut down, but we can’t do that. We go by Smithsonian guidelines for keeping the collections in good condition. We have to keep the air and the heat at set temperatures or mold and mildew can damage them.”
There is a wealth of history housed on the grounds, which is showcased in the main building and seven outbuildings. Features include a blacksmith shop, caboose, one-room schoolhouse, Jonathan Alder’s cabin, an old jail, farm equipment, and the first Madison County fire engine.
What many don’t know is that the main building houses an extensive library with birth, death, and marriage records, a Madison County atlas, yearbooks, execution of estates records going back to the early 1800s for all of Madison County, a book on World War I in alphabetical order for the entire state of Ohio, a book on World War II, and much more. All of those resources are available to the public, and admission to the museum is free, with a box available for donations.
The museum is membership owned and sponsored, and it depends on donations, grants, and membership fees to meet the costs of maintaining the property, insurance, and general bills. Grants are based on the number of memberships the museum has. The Wheeler Trust Fund was set up in 1978 to cover maintenance costs for the main building.
The wish list for the museum includes more memberships, installation of a donation slot in the main building’s side door, and a computer program that would inventory and catalogue everything from donations and memberships to collections. The program costs between $3,000 and $4,000.
“We just can’t afford that program, and it would make it so that everything can be easily accessed,” DeCamp said. “If someone came to us and said their family donated a bible in the 1800s and they wanted to see it, that program would instantly tell us where we could find it.”
The museum is still open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Visitors must wear masks, and the maxinum capacity at one time is 10 people.
For more information on membership and donations, call the museum at (740) 852-2977.