Ground broken for Belpre museum addition

BELPRE – While the city celebrated the 224th anniversary of its founding on Thursday, Belpre Historical Society volunteers broke ground on a new addition to the Farmers Castle Museum Education Center at 509 Ridge St.

The new 50-foot by 50-foot Collections Preservation building will be constructed adjacent to the current museum. The structure will be a separate, detached building and will have a front porch running the length of the building. The new facility will house a larger meeting room, restrooms and provide additional space for artifacts, memorabilia, exhibits and educational displays similar to those in the current building, which will remain in full use. Total project cost is about $236,000. Nancy Sams, president of the Belpre Historical Society, whose volunteers operate and maintain the museum, said the goal was to raise $175,000 by the end of January 2013 to have a spring groundbreaking, which came to fruition on Thursday. Museum officials hope the building will be completed in the fall.

David Haught of DLH Design, Marietta, was chosen as the architect for the project.

“I am really just the vehicle by which this was put on paper. These folks have worked extremely hard over the years on the facility and had the forethought to expand and provide more space. They just do wonderful work. The drawings are complete, we are ready to submit for permits and we will be sending out bid invitations to local contractors to receive bidding. Then we will go through a selection process so that the actual work on the building can begin,” Haught told those attending Thursday’s ceremonies.

“The membership of the Belpre Historical Society, after much planning and discussion, decided in July 2012 we needed more space, and if you’ve been in the museum, you know that’s true. One of our members, Pam Thomas, gave us a generous donation of $100,000 to start off our building fundraising campaign. That was the beginning, then we applied to granting agencies, foundations, appeals to the membership and sought support from the community,” Sams said, noting the Belpre community, individuals, groups and businesses responded with an open heart.

“We have, to date, raised 90 percent of the funding needed for our new building, which is phenomenal considering we only started last July to raise funds,” Sams said.

Pam Thomas, widow of the late Belpre Mayor Dick Thomas, said she’s been involved with the historical society for many years.

“I’ve been involved with the historical society since about 1994,” Thomas said, noting she felt she needed to help with the museum building fund.

“Our family has had business here in Belpre and lived in Belpre for many years, and I just felt it was time we gave back to Belpre. This was something I was very interested in,” she said.

The Peoples Bank Foundation was another contributor to the project.

“Our foundation supports arts, culture and education in our community and this definitely falls into those categories. I want to thank all the volunteers who contributed their time to make this possible. The museum is really a gem of Belpre,” said Larry Holdren with Peoples Bank.

McDonough Foundation contributed $66,000 for the project.

“The foundation is extremely proud of the city of Belpre and it’s wonderful you have such tremendous volunteers and a great community spirit. Mr. McDonough graduated from Belpre High School so it’s wonderful the foundation can continue, in his name, to be a part of the wonderful history of Belpre and certainly what has been accomplished over the years with the museum and the historical society is a tremendous compliment to you who have given so much of your time, your talent and your finances. It’s a pleasure to share in this project,” said Bob Stephens, president of the McDonough Foundation.

Donnie Loubrie, chairman of the Belpre Area Community Development Foundation, presented Sams a $20,000 check for the project during Thursday’s ceremonies.

Sams noted the society continues to raise money for the building project.

“And now we will have two buildings to maintain with the related expenses and we are a total volunteer organization,” Sams said. “We will continue to need donations. We want this to be everybody’s museum because history belongs to us all.”

The nonprofit museum is operated by volunteers and includes an extensive southeastern Ohio Underground Railroad permanent exhibit, based on research of local author/historian, the late Henry Burke of Marietta; memorabilia and artifacts from the area, including furniture, toys, farm implements, an old-style darkroom, cameras and equipment; Victorian period furnishings, school exhibits, military items. The museum is featuring Civil War memorabilia, including a slave collar and chains, battle maps, resources and research materials, books, and maps. Exhibits include a restored 1840s carriage and working gear-driven wooden loom used to make rugs and teach the art of weaving. Visitors can try their hand on the loom and purchase rugs and other items, made during demonstrations, as well as local history books in the museum’s gift shop. The McManus Archaeology Collection represents 12,000 years of prehistoric history, including arrowheads and primitive tools found in the Belpre area. There is also a set of andirons, peppermill and backgammon game from the Blennerhassett mansion.

There is an Apple-Agriculture Exhibit with various hand tools, saws and scythes, cider presses and apple barrels. An operating blacksmith shop contains the original forge and anvil from Shaffer’s Mill and a 100-year-old workbench stands next to a man-sized manual drill press and pedal-driven router in a facility constructed in back of the museum by volunteers.

There is also genealogy information in the resource center with local family histories, diaries, heritage homes, burial records and other valuable information for those searching for ancestors.

The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m., April to November and other times by appointment. For more information, to schedule a tour or donate to the building project, contact the museum at (740) 423-7588 and leave a message, or contact Sams at (740) 423-7382, email or mail a check to the Belpre Historical Society at P.O. Box 731, Belpre, OH 45714-0731