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A Future Museum

River Museum to open in May 2003
with support, items from area residents

By Sherry Timms
Contributing Writer

VEVAY, Ind. – (November 2002) The Switzerland County Historical Society is busy refurbishing the house next door to the current museum to use as a home for their extensive steamboat and river related collections.
The house was the manse (parsonage) of the former Presbyterian church, which now houses the Switzerland County Historical Society and its collections.
The new River Museum was most recently used as the dental office of Dr. Bob Findlay. When Findlay moved into a new medical building, he put the house on the market. The Historical Society made an offer and is buying the house on contract.
“At least one room will be devoted to miniature steam vessels,” said docent Lois Rosenberger.

Lois Rosenberger

Lois Rosenberger with
'City of Louisville'

The society received a wonderful collection of miniature steamship models built by Harold Patterson of Florence, Ind. Patterson’s granddaughter, Luanna Gaebel of Cincinnati, donated the collection to the museum about 10 years ago after being in contact with Barbara Huffman of Lamb, Ind.
Patterson was an actor on the Billy Bryant Showboats and, after his retirement, reconstructed many of the ornate riverboats of his past out of found objects.
“When we received the models, they had been stored in a garage or attic and were full of dust,” said Martha Bladen, the society’s president. “We airbrushed them and literally blew dust out of them. They are made out of things like cereal boxes and match sticks-things Mr. Patterson just had around the house. It is true folk art. That’s the way I look at it,” Bladen said.
Although this miniature collection will be an important part of the museum, there are many other river related items to display.
There are many old photos of steamboats. Hazel Dunglade of Vevay recently donated 30 from her own collection. Some of the photos are glass transparencies and date from the late 1860s. This important collection will be archivally mounted and framed for permanent display in the new museum.
Other items include bills of lading, a pilot house chair, objects from the Carrollton ferry, a patent model for a steering mechanism for a steamboat, acorns from the embellished woodwork of the Queen City steamship, brass lamps, pressure gauges and the old steering wheel from the Martha Graham, the old ferry boat that served both sides of the Ohio River for generations.
All of these historical pieces tell the story of Vevay as a bustling river town and port – a town with a place in the history and development of the region.
This museum will also become a destination for tourists interested in the history and culture of the Ohio River Valley.
Ann Mulligan, director of the Switzerland County Welcome Center, avidly supports this project and the new Living History Museum that the historical society is developing.
“We are looking forward to working with the historical society to promote cultural and historical tourism in Switzerland County,” Mulligan said. “We are excited about the development of these new attractions, which are important to expanding our county’s tourism base.”
Bladen said, “People will add to the collection when they see the new display. They may find a permanent and safe home for special items they have been saving.”
The new museum will also house the present museum’s library and archives and house a small genealogy library where people can find facts about their ancestors. The current museum has no way to control the humidity that can be devastating for old book materials.
Sidewalks have already been installed by the town of Vevay connecting the two buildings. There are plans for a center garden area and landscaping when funds become available.
All of these visionary ideas still need to have hard cash behind them. The museum has applied for grants to finish exhibit areas and replace some interior flooring where the dentist's equipment was attached to water pipes. Other than a few other minor repairs, the house that will house the new museum is in good condition.
The Switzerland County Historical Society is presently working on the new River Museum and the Living History Museum with the installation of a hay press barn.

• To volunteer to work on these projects or to join the Switzerland County Historical Society, call (812) 427-3560.

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