(Posted Jan. 22, 2018)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Every time someone offers up an old keepsake for the Mount Sterling Community Museum’s collection, director Steve Chambers gets excited.
“It’s just amazing what people bring in,” he said.
Recent donations include a Boy Scout uniform that belonged to village resident Roger Stump and dates back to the early 1940s. The sleeve sports a Mount Sterling Troop 173 patch. Chambers also recently acquired a Mount Sterling High School cheerleading uniform worn by resident Carol Junk in 1954.
In November, a descendant of the Loofbourrow and Miller families donated several pieces of war correspondence to the museum, including a thank-you letter from the War of 1812, a notification from the U.S. Assistant Surgeon General of the death of a soldier who fought in Sherman’s Army in 1863, and a piece of 1945 World War II victory mail.
Whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional, items that tell stories and preserve pieces of bygone eras are the bread and butter of local history museums.
Madison County’s museums–the Mount Sterling Community Museum, Plain City Historical Society Museum, and Madison County Historical Society Museum in London–boast eye-catching and absorbing arrays of memorabilia and records–all thanks to donated items from residents and history buffs.
So what do museum organizers look for when acquiring pieces for their collections?
In all three cases in Madison County, an item’s connection to location, its age, and its condition are of utmost importance.
“Anything old with the words ‘Mount Sterling’ on it are great additions to the museum,” Chambers said.
Nancy Dever, director of the Madison County Historical Society Museum, is drawn to items that come with background information about their owners, creators, or users.
“For example, we have some lovely milk cans, and with them we have the story about the local girl who would milk the cows before going to school,” Dever said.
Another example, she said, is a recently donated quilt made in 1901. Women from London and Summerford paid a dime each to have their names stitched on the petals of the quilt’s red and white flower design. The names of the donor’s grandmother and great-grandmother are among those featured.
All three museums do make exceptions when it comes to local relevance. Original antiques that are especially unique and would work well as part of a larger display are fair game, they said.
“Anything that’s rare or really, really old, we like,” said Bernie Vance, finance and fundraising chairmen for the Plain City Historical Society.
Vance and his fellow historical society members were giddy about their recent acquisition of a complete wedding ensemble–dress, shoes, and gloves–worn by a Plain City bride in the late 1800s.
“You wouldn’t think a family would give up something like that, but they didn’t have a use for it and, of course, we love to get that kind of thing.”
In all cases, the museums are looking for items that are in good condition, ready for display.
Size also is considered. Because space is always at a premium, museums sometimes find it difficult to accept larger items and collections. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try, though.
“The largest thing that’s come in since I became director about four years ago was a 1961 Seeburg jukebox that plays 33-1/3 records from the 1950s and ‘60s,” Chambers said. The piece was such a beauty, he made room for it in the museum’s cramped two-room quarters.
The Plain City Historical Society was musically motivated, too, when acquiring one of their largest pieces–the piano on which a local woman taught piano lessons to dozens of children from the 1920s to the 1950s.
With all due consideration to local relevance, age, condition and size, there is one other deciding factor for all three museums.
“With limited resources, we rely on people to donate items. We don’t buy items,” Chambers said.
Additionally, each museum representative said their respective organization rarely takes items on loan. To avoid complications caused by possible damage or loss, they prefer that ownership transfers to the museum.
While organizers are happy to consider a wide range of items for inclusion in their collections, they all have wish lists–items that are popular with visitors and items that fill holes in or expand on certain categories.
Chambers’s wish list includes postcards depicting Mount Sterling landmarks, letters written by Mount Sterling residents, family photos from the late 1800s to the 1940s, copies of the Mount Sterling Tribune newspaper dating from 1880 to 2015, and school yearbooks from Mount Sterling, Madison South, Westfall and Madison-Plains from pre-1950 and from 1970 to 2000.
Like Chambers, Vance likes postcards, along with anything to do with Plain City schools and old photos, especially those taken by Henry Wentzel, a renowned photographer who chronicled Plain City on film in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Dever is on the lookout for information on outstanding female athletes from Madison County to round out the county museum’s sports display. Likewise, she is always interested in items of local military significance for the organization’s longstanding patriotic display.