Ohio museum finds home in historic building
Clark County, Ohio, has brought new and old life to downtown Springfield with the opening of the Heritage Center in the Old Marketplace building. The 110-year-old building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, once housed government offices and a countywide farmer’s market. Today, it serves as a museum housing regional artifacts more than a century old.
The Clark County Historical Society, which was founded in 1897, has amassed more than 200,000 artifacts during its existence. For example, the society’s Miami Valley Military Collection consists of weapons, battle flags, medallions and memorabilia from the American Revolution through Desert Storm. An 18th century Woodland Indian bow used in the Battle of Piqua also is featured in the collection; it is one of two in the United States.
The society’s Transportation and Locally Manufactured Collection features two “Champion” reapers, a Buffalo-Springfield steamroller, washing and sewing machines, looms, wagons, carriages and sleighs. James Leffel’s double water turbine is a highlight of the society’s patent model collection.
“[The society members] are the custodians of all these artifacts,” says Floyd Barmann, director of the Heritage Center. “Springfield has a rich history with many physical reminders.”
Those artifacts were on display at the county’s Memorial Hall until 1985, when the building closed. The society subsequently stored all the historic items and, in 1995, community leaders began looking for a new place to showcase Springfield’s memorabilia.
They chose to renovate the Old Marketplace so the building could be preserved and the artifacts could be displayed. The roof was re-tiled with slate, and some of the exterior bricks were replaced with coal-fired bricks that matched those used in the original design. The society even had the building’s four clocks retrofitted with historically accurate faces and hands.
Some new construction also was needed. The society had a 10- by 20-foot elevator installed to transport large artifacts, such as furniture, to upper floors. It also had 16,500 square feet of space added to house the museum exhibits and offices. Because of the sensitive nature of some artifacts, the society had a vapor envelope created using linoleum under the first floor finish and a plastic barrier in the walls and in the attic floor. Renovations were completed in early 2001, just in time for the county’s bicentennial.
The Historical Society has arranged artifacts in new exhibits to take advantage of the Heritage Center’s renovations. For example, the National Road exhibit, which begins with an 1810 Conestoga wagon, winds around the museum’s ground floor and takes visitors from the East Coast to the Midwest from the 1830s to the present. The “Clash of Cultures” exhibit depicts the Native American encounter with European settlers. The “Industrial” gallery portrays Clark County’s importance as a manufacturing giant in the 19th century. The “Service to the Nation” gallery highlights the contributions of area service men and women from the Civil War to the present.
In addition to exhibit space and offices, the Old Marketplace includes a museum store, a coffee shop and a classroom for school groups. A restored 1890s street connects the Heritage Center to the Elderly United Center and the Springfield City Area Transit transfer station. A farmer’s market operates Saturday mornings in the parking lot.
The project cost approximately $11 million and was funded by a one-year half-percent sales tax. Additional funds came from the Ohio Arts & Sports Facilities Commission, a Federal Economic Development Grant, the Ohio Department of Transportation ISTEA, the Clark County Historical Society and private donations. The Heritage Center has received about 35,000 visitors since it opened on March 31, 2001.