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John Hay Center

John Hay Center a nostalgic stop

By Susan Eberman
Contributing Writer


SALEM, Ind. (March 2000) – The John Hay Center in Salem is definitely one of southern Indiana’s hidden treasures.

John Hay Center

Photo by Susan Eberman

The John Hay Center offers a look
at pioneer life and plays host
to Old Settlers Days each fall.

Located on a quaint brick street just three blocks from the Washington County courthouse, the building actually houses three facilities: The Stevens Memorial Museum, the Washington County Historical Society Genealogy Library and the Pioneer Village.
It is named for Salem, Ind., native John Hay, who was president Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary from 1861-1865 as well as Secretary of State under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay is best known for helping to strengthen ties between America and England and for his Open Door notes regarding trade with China.
To ensure that Hay’s life would not fade from public memory, the Washington County Historical Society opened this facility in 1971.
Salem Mayor Douglas Campbell said the facility is a great asset to Salem and Washington County.
“The John Hay Center attracts about 10,000 visitors annually," he said. "It hosts Old Settlers Days each fall, which is the largest annual event in this area. Area residents of all ages have a great place to learn about their proud heritage."
Martha Bowers serves as the center's curator and librarian. “Our main attraction is our genealogy library, which contains some material from every Indiana county," she said.
“But we’re not limited to Hoosier material. The library has a complete set of American Papers, which are early land grants for the eastern United States."
This year, the center will be adding volumes with Indiana birth records from 1850-1920 and death records from 1882-1920, Bowers said. Organized picture files allow visitors to order reprints of many historic photographs.
"And we have plenty of exhibits to show artifacts from Washington County’s beginning about 1820 through the 1920s,” said Bowers, who is the only full-time staff member.
Visitors of all ages can enjoy hundreds of well-kept displays, including military relics, vintage clothing, old fashioned toys, flow blue dishes, antique furnishings in home and office settings, and sports memorabilia.
The main exhibit room is located to the right of the lobby. Outstanding antiques displayed in eight well-lit showcases include outstanding examples of shaving mugs, majolica, Limoges china, spatterware, and more than 200 flow blue dishes. Textiles on display include century-old handmade quilts, a vintage wedding dress, and western outfits. Four glass front dioramas depict 19th century offices of a lawyer, doctor, dentist and confectionery. All showcased items are clearly labeled.
The Carol Shrum room, which adjoins the main exhibit room, houses military exhibits. Two dozen showcases display military uniforms and weapons used by American men and women in the Armed Forces from the Revolutionary War through Desert Storm. One exhibit features a Civil War cavalry sabre known to have belonged to an officer because of the silver creat on the buckle. Another displays a patriotic outfit worn by a young boy attending the inaguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The Attic Gallery on the second floor features room settings that are furnished to represent typical century-old Hoosier homes. A radio and Victrola provide family entertainment in the parlor. The bedroom is complete with a chamberpot. A metal coffee grinder and other unusual implements are displayed in the kitchen. An outstanding dining room buffet made from a solid piece of wood highlights the dining room.
Also on the second floor is the Everett Dean Gallery. Dean first played basketball at Salem High School, where the playing floor is named in his honor. A 1921 graduate of Indiana University, he was that college’s first All-American basketball player and served as basketball coach from 1924 to 1938. Dean continued his coaching career at Stanford University, where his 1942 team won the equivalent of today’s NCAA championship.
In addition to IU basketball items, the Dean Gallery also includes Indianapolis Speedway memorabilia.
A lower-level room in the museum is dedicated to children of all ages. A large doll house full of dolls and stuffed toys is the focal point. A replica of Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, hangs overhead. The lower level also has a meeting room available for private rentals.
Outside the museum, the Pioneer Village has been developed to recreate Hoosier life during the 1840s. The blacksmith shop, the schoolhouse and the log cabin residence are among 10 buildings available for viewing.

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