A Step Back in Time

New Washington business
preserves, shares area history

A rare Conestoga
covered wagon now on display

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

NEW WASHINGTON, Ind. (January 2011) – Like many New Washington residents, Marvin and Beverly Maxwell enjoyed the charm that the Normal School on Main Street adds to their community.

Marvin Maxwell

Photo provided

Marvin Maxwell had this 1817
authentic Conestoga wagon
restored by an Amish craftsman.

Over the years, the 1894 property at 409 Main St. has served New Washington, Ind., in many roles including school, movie theater and Masonic Lodge. However, by 2000 the structure had faced extended neglect. After learning that demolition plans were well under way, the Maxwells purchased the historic school building and set about bringing it back to life.
“We did this to save it,” Maxwell says of the restorations he and his wife, Beverly, did to the property. “We just couldn’t see tearing it down.”
Today, visitors are invited to share in the rewards of the Maxwells’ hard work. The couple has re-opened their restaurant, A Step Back, for brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. “It’s been a learning experience,” Beverly says of running the restaurant. ”I have a friend and the two of us do the meal here.”
In keeping with the building’s history as a theater, the Maxwells continue to bring in live entertainment on special occasions. The upcoming season includes plans for a play Valentine’s weekend, and then in March guests are invited back for a change of pace with murder mystery dinner theater. Beverly is also looking forward to a musical production of “Annie” that will take the stage the first weekend in April.
While the first floor of the building is filled with food and fun, those looking to learn more about the history of New Washington should head up to the second floor museum. Maxwell notes that everyone has something odd and unusual in attics and basements, and more and more people are coming forward to share their memorabilia and antiques from the community’s past.
Recently, Maxwell arranged an exciting loan from the Bower Family Association in the form of an authentic Conestoga covered wagon. In 1817 Andrew Bower moved his wife and nine children from North Carolina to Indiana using the unique wagon.
“A real prairie schooner – which I had never seen before,” says Maxwell. Frequently, the wagons on display for people to view are those with a rectangular box bed. However, the Bower family wagon features a curved, boat-like shape developed to keep the items inside the wagon from shifting and rolling around. For years the wagon sat hidden in a barn near the old schoolhouse, and Maxwell is delighted to have it restored and available for viewing.
Maxwell turned to an Amish craftsman to restore the wheels on the wagon, which had deteriorated after years of neglect. While the restorer had spent much of his life working on a wide range of horse drawn vehicles, he had never seen a wagon quite like this one. In fact, Maxwell believes it may very well be the only example of this type of wagon in Indiana.
The final challenge came in getting the large vehicle up to the second floor of the building, which in an odd twist of fate turned out to little challenge at all. “When I was a kid I got a wooden model of a wagon,” Maxwell notes with a smile. Remembering the hours of fun he had spent assembling and playing with his toy wagon, he simply took the full sized version apart and put it back together on the museum floor. “It wasn’t any problem,” Maxwell says.
While the Maxwells are pleased with the results of their restorations and enjoy serving as a gathering place for their community, they are now looking to pass the business on to new hands. He hopes to find a buyer for the property who will make full use of the building’s potential and envisions it becoming an antique store or bed and breakfast.
“You’ve got to do it groovy enough to draw the out of towners,” he explains. “If I were 40 years younger, I would jump at a place like this.”

• For more information on upcoming events and to view a video on the history of the New Washington Normal School building, visit: www.astepback.net.

Back to January 2011 Articles.



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