of its restoration project
(October 2001) Madison, In Surrounded by onlookers
in a darkened early 19 century woodworking shop, Robert
Yuill cranked up a 70-year-old machine, fed into it a
stack of small, wooden blocks and watched as it noisily
spat out a series of rough-edged clothes pins.
The visitors inched closer to accept samples
while carefully stepping around pipes and wires and wood.
Moving alternately to a wood planer, table saw, band saw
and slotting saw, Yuill started each one and demonstrated
how these antiquated yet precise instruments were refurbished,
their motors rewound and their belts and pulleys cleaned
and returned to perfect working order.
Now if there was only a market for pre-World War I saddletrees,
the wooden frames once used to form the skeleton of Western
and English leather-bound horse saddles.
But there is a market for heritage tourism. And Historic
Madison Inc. is hoping its newest addition to its collection
of 14 historic sites will attract an entirely new audience
when the Ben Schroeder Saddletree factory opens to the
public in spring 2002. The $1.2 million restored factory
will join four other HMI-owned sites in Madison that are
open for public tours. The 40-year-old, not-for-profit
historic preservation organization was founded by the
late John Windle and today boasts 750 members.
Madison is strong in the historical homes and the
arts, but an industrial museum is a whole new thing,
said HMI president John Galvin. This project will
increase Madisons standing as a place to experience
19th century America from the 21st century world.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and community open house is
planned for Oct. 27, when the newly restored factory and
home will be open for public tours. Next year, the one-of-a-kind
museum will offer individual, school and group tours from
April to October. The gift shop will sell such items as
booklets, clothes pins, educational literature and post
Already, the 10-year-old restoration project has garnered
interest worldwide from organizations and individuals
involved in industrial history and archaeology. Dozens
of college students from four southern Indiana campuses
have worked on the project, and educational programming
is being developed to provide on-site demonstrations for
Volunteers are being trained to operate the machines and
lead tours, said project director John Stacier, 41, a
New York native hired by HMI in 1991 to oversee the restoration
effort and its future museum operation. He has directed
dozens of graduate students and volunteers who over the
last decade have carefully catalogued and warehoused tools,
sales records and household items used by the Schroeders.
Guided by research, documents and clues left behind by
the Schroeder family, Stacier and others have replaced
many of those items as they once were in an attempt to
recreate the period.
Iron tools hang from the walls and ceilings of the woodworking
and blacksmith shops. Knob and tube lighting has been
replaced with modern reproductions that look original.
Sagging wooden floors and foundations have been repaired
and shored up. The interior of the home near the front
of the complex has been remodeled to serve as a gift shop,
ticket area and two exhibit rooms that will tell the story
of the saddletree business and the Schroeders lifestyle.
The business was one of 12 saddletree factories that once
operated in Madison, and among the smallest, supplying
saddle trees to customers in the United States, Canada,
Mexico, Cuba and South America.
Our goal from the beginning has been to relearn
the art of saddletree making as the Schroeders knew it,
said Stacier. Weve sort of stitched the manufacturing
story, or at least the bare bones of it, back together.
Galvin, HMI board members and about 100 guests on Sept.
8 toured the Schroeder woodworking and blacksmith shops
and Schroeder home, built in 1897. Galvin used the occasion
to detail the history of the project, while Stacier provided
insight into the Schroeders life and work while
leading the tour of the site.
Yuill, 47, a machinery conservator based in Birmingham,
Ala., operated the machinery for the visitors. He spent
nearly a year living in Madison and restoring the machines
for use in the future museum. He called the project the
biggest one Ive ever been associated with, in terms
of its historical significance.
He added that the Schroeders ingenuity to make the
most out of the tools and materials they had at the time
is one of the more important stories here.
The day began with opening remarks from Galvin, Stacier
and HMI board chairman Merritt Alcorn, a local attorney.
The group then toured each building and watched Yuills
Alcorn called the project a treasure trove
of saddletree factory tools, adding that HMI has achieved
a reconstruction of the highest quality.
The Schroeder family operated the factory from 1878 until
the youngest son died in 1972. When the property was donated
to HMI in 1975 by the Schroeder estate, it was in complete
disrepair, Alcorn said. Because no money was available
at the time to pursue the project, HMI essentially mothballed
the site, Galvin said.
It was not until 1987 that money became available through
private donations. Windle died in 1987, but his widow,
Ann Windle, insisted on moving forward on the project,
Galvin said. With her own donation, HMI initiated a study
that resulted in the decision to restore the property,
establish a museum and hire Stacier. A graduate of State
University of New York, he had previously worked at Hanford
Mills, a historic water-powered mill and woodworking shop
in East Meredith, N.Y.
I didnt put too much pressure on John. I just
said the promise of success or failure rests on your shoulders,
and here are the keys, Galvin joked.
An Indiana Department of Transpor-tation made available
$632,000 to HMI in 1996 to help pay for the restoration,
with 20 percent of the money to be matched by other contributions.
Those funds came from the Lilly Endowment Inc., Cinergy
and the Horn, Ogle, Schroeder and Yunker foundations,
as well as individual contributors.
There was no city money used in the project, but
the citys participation was necessary as the sponsoring
government organization for use to qualify for the grant,
Alcorn commended the work by Stacier, whose competency,
dedication and scholarship has defined the project,
Others involved in the project were equally impressed
with the outcome. John Bowie, a historical architect from
Pennsylvania, said, The challenge of a museum specialist
is to decide what items to replace that will tell the
story and enhance the experience of the visitor. John
Stacier has done an excellent job in that regard.
Bowie was hired to research and oversee the architectural
accuracy in the Schroeder buildings reconstruction.
Olentangy Restoration of Marion, Ohio, won the bids to
restore all three buildings.
We wanted to make sure the buildings are preserved
and historically accurate, but also that the site can
function as a museum so the public can safely come through
here, Bowie said.
Bowie and others agreed that the most impressive aspect
for visitors will be watching the old machines work. Youll
get to see and smell the wood and feel the ground shake.
Its more than going to a static museum exhibit,
I think visitors will be struck by the ingenuity
of the people who lived and worked here, said Suzann
Leist of Crittenden, Ky., whose husband, Joe, provided
research on the project. It will be especially interesting
to men and boys because of all the machinery.
Philip Scarpino, a history professor from Indiana University-Purdue
University-Indianapolis, provided about 50 students and
his own time on the project over the last decade. Scarpino
called the museum unique in the United States and
maybe in the Western world.
Its really hard to realize how unique the
project is to Madison not only to be able to acquire
the money to stabilize the building, but to restore the
machinery and get it back into working order is quite
an achievement. It took a tremendous amount of hours,
so this is a very significant place.