Golden Anniversary

Oldham Co. Historical Society
to mark 50 years with events

History Center educates thousands
each year in county history

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

Oldham County History Center Logo

(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 society’s executive director. The History Center, located at 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange, is owned and operated by the Oldham County Historical Society.
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 acquired.
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 society’s 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 society’s website at www.oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.

Nancy Thiess
Nancy Thiess

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 Koehler.
“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, it’s important to support the society because of its mission. That includes trying to acknowledge past people and their contributions.”

Duncan memorial Chapel

Photo provided

This 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 Trisha’s Attic, an exhibit dedicated to the late Trish Garlock, who had owned The Treasure Child on La Grange’s 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 community’s 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 Actor’s 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 society’s anniversary year in the fall. This display will feature some of the rare and unique documents from the society’s archives that include deeds, diaries, letters, court records, architectural drawings and personal correspondences.
Board member and secretary for the society, Sally Landes, said the organization’s 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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