Co. Historical Society
to mark 50 years with events
Center educates thousands
each year in county history
Helen E. McKinney
(April 2009) The Oldham County Historical
Society has been going strong for 50 years, bringing to light the people
and events that have shaped the county and preserving its history for
future generations. Special programs and exhibits are planned throughout
the year that will celebrate this half century milestone.
Currently, there are 450 members in the Oldham County Historical Society.
Membership has doubled over the last few years, according to Nancy Theiss,
the societys executive director. The History Center, located at
106 N. Second Ave., La Grange, is owned and operated by the Oldham County
The first meeting of the Oldham County Historical Society took place
on October 6, 1959, at Duncan Memorial Chapel in Floysdburg. Fifty people
attended, and Mr. R.F. Johnson served as the temporary chairman. Board
meetings were often held at the Crestwood Civic Club in an effort to
decide how to best preserve and display the many objects that had been
In 1990, after Louise Head died, the society was approached by members
of the Peyton Head Trust about developing and using two properties opposite
the Oldham County Courthouse in La Grange. The society now operates
from three buildings located there: the J.C. Barnett Archives and Library
(formerly known as the James Mount House), Peyton Samuel Head Family
Museum, and the Rob Morris Chapel (formerly known as the La Grange Church
of Christ), purchased in 2001.
The society is an official member of the Kentucky Museum and Heritage
Alliance, American Association of Museums, Association of State and
Local History Museums, and a partner of the Museum on Main Street Projects.
Housed among the societys archives are more than several thousand
artifacts, documents and photographs. Specific collections include the
Ott Family Train Collection, Chilton Barnett Whiskey Jugs, Hermitage
Farm Collection, Bennett Tool Collection and the Amos Mount Civil War
Letters. A team of volunteers has located and recorded more than 22,000
graves, which are listed online at the societys website at www.oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
The History Center educates thousands of visitors and
students about the county through its constant exhibits and programs.
Past exhibit topics have covered barns of Oldham County, the Kentucky
State Reformatory, Annie Fellows Johnston and The Little Colonel, Hermitage
Farm, the quilts of Ruth Klingenfus and the photography of Marian Klein
The Oldham County Historical Society really grew when it opened
the Oldham County History Center in 1999, said Theiss. This
gave us a chance to engage people with their community history as well
as open an archives that specializes in the research of people, places
and events that shaped our local history.
In September 1995, the society hired its first professional director.
Theiss became the executive director in 2003. At that time, she was
just beginning her doctorate program at the University of Louisville.
Her doctorate focused on historic figure Aldo Leopold and a class he
taught (Wildlife Ecology 118) that was the first conservation class
taught in the United States. Her background was in natural history until
she branched out into cultural history.
Theiss was the Director for Information and Education at the Kentucky
Department of Fish and Wildlife and the first director of the Louisville
Nature Center. Even though she was not previously involved with the
Oldham County Historical Society, the exhibits and programs have greatly
expanded under her leadership.
The society is overseen by a Board of Directors. Society member Alex
Babey joined the board six months ago and said, History is important
in itself. To me, its important to support the society because
of its mission. That includes trying to acknowledge past people and
1950s photo, part of the
collection of the Oldham County
Historical Society, shows a wedding
at Duncan Memorial Chapel.
The History Center is always changing and growing, Thiess
said, due to the generosity of donors, members, volunteers, grants,
an annual fundraising Gala and the generous support of the Peyton Samuel
Head Trust. New permanent exhibits include a hands-on technology area
with artifacts from the past, a D.W. Griffith Mini-Theatre, and Trishas
Attic, an exhibit dedicated to the late Trish Garlock, who had owned
The Treasure Child on La Granges Main Street. The store, which
features vintage clothing, a dress up area and hands on activities for
children, still operates today under new ownership.
Many events are planned for 2009. The society plans to play host to
a Smithsonian Institute Traveling exhibit from April 25 through June
2 titled, Between Fences. Many community events have been
planed around this theme, including a Paint A Picket contest and a photography
contest that will showcase fences from the communitys viewpoint.
While the Smithsonian exhibit is still showing, Voice of a Fugitive,
a play written exclusively for the Oldham County Historical Society,
will premier May 29-31 at Actors Theatre in Louisville. The play
was written by Carridder Jones, and it details the life and times of
local native, slave, fugitive and newspaper editor, Henry Bibb. This
play was funded by the Kentucky Arts Council.
The society recently received a grant through the Lincoln Bicentennial
Celebration from the Kentucky Heritage Council. The Henry Bibb Archaeology
projects in Bedford, Ky., have been expanded for public digs and two
free Archaeological Institutes for High School students at the Gatewood
archaeological site will be funded through this grant.
The History Center plans to play host to a special exhibit, The Henry
Bibb Project, from April 15 to Aug. 15. This focuses on the slave culture
of Oldham County and this archaeological program that began in 2002.
Primary Docs: The Museum Collection, is a special exhibit
that will wrap up the societys anniversary year in the fall. This
display will feature some of the rare and unique documents from the
societys archives that include deeds, diaries, letters, court
records, architectural drawings and personal correspondences.
Board member and secretary for the society, Sally Landes, said the organizations
members are excited about celebrating the 50th anniversary. There are
a lot of dedicated people on the board and volunteers who plan events
to get the community involved, she said.
Landes said she became involved with the society for many reasons. My
love of history and love of Oldham County is why she joined several
years ago. She added that the History Center has a wonderful director
to keep it going.
History to me means my community and home place, said Theiss.
History grounds me to the place I live and gives me a point of
reference that helps to guide my life and decisions.
For more information on the events and
exhibits of the Oldham County Historical Society, call (502) 222-0826
or visit: www.oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
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