a link to the past
County museum on track
envision a learning, history center
NEW CASTLE, Ky. (June 1999) The signs of neglect
are everywhere: water stains the color of tobacco juice drooping from
ceiling to the floor, cracked windows and dingy, sagging wallpaper are
just a few of the more obvious scars. Yet the elegant fireplaces and
graceful, winding staircase offer a glimpse of the quiet dignity that
New Castles Caplinger House once displayed.
by Don Ward
Henry County Historical Society
is trying to raise the money to
renovate this house in downtown
New Castle, Ky., to use as a
historical society museum.
This former glory is what president Shirley Sills and
other members of the Henry County Historical Society envisioned the
first time they walked through its door.
Add to that the structures own history and prime location, on
Hwy. 421 just half a block south of the Courthouse Square, and the society
couldnt turn down the chance to buy the house when it became available
two years ago during Henry Countys bicentennial celebration.
In the long process of restoring the Caplinger Houses original
charm, the societys members are seeking much more than just an
architectural showplace of the past; they are looking to the future,
too. They envision a diorama outlining Henry Countys development
painted on the floor of the left front parlor. They see shelves of educational
pamphlets and files of the countys precious archives lining the
walls. They picture rotating exhibitions in the right front parlor.
In their minds, the dining room will become a conference center, while
the upstairs bedrooms are transformed into a state-of-the-art computer
When complete, the Caplinger House will play a prominent role in educating
people about Henry Countys heritage, as home of the Henry County
History Center. (Henry County was formed from part of Shelby County
in 1798 and named in honor of American Revolutionary Patrick Henry.
In the early 1800s, Henry yielded up some of its area along the Ohio
River to help create Trimble, Oldham and Carroll counties.)
The society first decided it needed a place to house a museum, genealogical
and educational resource center back in 1993.
We wanted to reach Henry County students and adults to make them
aware of their heritage and provide a learning atmosphere, says
Sills, a former Saginaw, Mich., resident who adopted Kentucky as her
chosen home when she and her husband moved here 11 years ago.
Henry Countians are very serious about retaining our heritage,
adds Pat Wallace, a long-time society member who currently serves on
its board of directors.
History is embedded with the people here, so we needed a convenient
place where they could link with their past.
The 136-year-old Caplinger House seems destined to fill that role perfectly.
It was built in 1863 by James Nelson Caplinger, a carpenter and pharmacist
who had moved from Shelby County to New Castle in 1852. (He later produced
two duplicate homes in New Castle for his daughters.) The house has
had a number of owners through the years, including the United Methodist
Church which used it as a parsonage for nearly half a century (1917
When the Historical Society bought the house, it was once again in the
hands of private owners and, though the Kentucky Heritage Council declared
it structurally sound and a good example of its periods
architecture, the house was definitely in need of some TLC.
And that TLC takes a lot of money, the society has discovered. Members
are assisting in whatever tasks they can, such as scraping off wallpaper,
but much of the work still requires professional attention. Additionally,
the work must comply with historical preservation guidelines, a job
being overseen by Lexington architect Jed Porter, assisted by an historic
preservation consultant from the University of Kentucky.
A new copper roof, hidden guttering and downspouts to halt the extensive
water damage topped the Societys list of immediate concerns. That
job was recently completed at a price tag of about $35,000. Rebuilding
the three chimneys soaked up another $2,000.
With electrical, heating and air conditioning work, plumbing, new windows
and making the house handicapped accessible remaining to be done in
Phase I of the restoration, the society knows its facing another
whopping cash outlay.
After that, theyll concentrate on financing the reinforcement
of upstairs flooring, adding a new climate-controlled room for storing
archives in an area presently occupied by an enclosed porch (not part
of the original structure) and installation of a sprinkler system (Phase
II). Phase III involves landscaping and pouring a parking lot. If all
goes as scheduled, Phase I will be finished by January 2000.
Finding the monies to finance such an undertaking might overwhelm a
less determined group, but the Henry County Historical Societys
200-plus members exhibit an enthusiasm not often seen in volunteer organizations
of this sort.
After all, they raised the $55,000 to purchase the home using proceeds
from the sale of a series of Henry County history-related books, along
with private donations. Now theyre throwing their energy into
raising money for the restoration.
Henry isnt like some counties that have the money to hire
curators, but we have a close group who really have pushed to get this
project off the ground, Sills said.
Still, she and Wallace admit, they could use more help. We have
the pie in the sky, Sills says, but getting there is next.
For additional information or to learn
how you can assist in this project, write the Henry County Historical
Society at P.O. Box 570, New Castle, KY 40050 or call Pat Wallace at
(502) 845-0806. You can also find them on the Web at: http://henrycountykentucky.com/history.htm.
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