Step Back in Time
preserves, shares area history
covered wagon now on display
Lela Jane Bradshaw
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.
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 couldnt
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. Its 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 buildings history as a theater, the Maxwells
continue to bring in live entertainment on special occasions. The upcoming
season includes plans for a play Valentines 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 communitys
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
wasnt 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 buildings
potential and envisions it becoming an antique store or bed and breakfast.
Youve 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
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