Historical Society looks to improve

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The Oldham County Historical Society came into existence with a strong purpose to “preserve, collect and convey the history of Oldham County by telling the story of its people and the events that shaped its development, using the objects and artifacts that illustrate and symbolize that history.”

It has continued to do so for many years and now looks toward the future to further its goal. The society constantly looks for ways to improve existing exhibits, programs, events and various activities for all ages. Volunteers and staff never tire of collecting and cataloging personal objects and artifacts of historical value from the public; for they know these items will only enhance the society’s expansive collections housed in the J.C. Barnett Library & Archives building.

A Vision Planning Charrette was held Jan. 16 to discuss future goals for the Oldham County Historical Society. It was comprised of individuals who genuinely care about what the Historical Society has to offer to the community.

The charrette was led by Solid Light, Inc.: Comprehensive Museum & Exhibit Design Services located in Louisville. This firm has worked on various projects such as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Lexington Visitor’s Center, the Hall of Governors for the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, and the historical homes of Locust Grove and Farmington in Louisville.

Solid Light guided a small group of 15 individuals to concentrate on such topics as long-term goals, resources, assets, key messages to convey to visitors and ways to attract new visitors to the History Center campus. This brainstorming session focused on pointing out the current strengths of the society’s holdings and looked for ways to improve what many within the county do not even realize exists right at their own back door.

Cynthia Torp, President of Solid Light, said it was the firm’s job to “refine the (Historical Society’s’) vision to step it up to the next level,” and “find new ways to become vital to the community.”

The vision of the Oldham County Historical Society is simple: “(to) provide an environment in which the life of the past is experienced in the present.” The society continues to do this in many ways through various forms of programming and exhibits.

One highly popular program is the Archaeology Institute for High School Students held annually in July. Students, under the direction of History Center Executive Director Nancy Theiss and archeologist Jeannine Kreinbrink, participate in a week-long archaeology investigation at the Gatewood Plantation in Trimble County. Part of the discovery students make is to see how archaeology reveals secrets of our human past in order to help us interpret the present generation.

New to this year’s calendar are several Genealogy Workshops. Uncovering an ancestors’ life and the time period they live in, often leads many researchers to make personal discoveries about themselves and the world around them. To actually experience a different century in a very hands-on way, the Historical Society sponsors a Colonial Trade Faire each year in June, where the 18th century comes to life right in the middle of La Grange.

The highly popular American Girl series is a monthly program offered to young girls, based on the American Girl Book Club. Using a girl their own age, the books teach them about life in a different cultural and historical setting, one girls can compare to their present-day lives.

Without a doubt, the Living Treasures program is one of the best ways the Oldham County Historical Society records history. Each month an individual from the county is interviewed and written about by Nancy Theiss; the interview is then archived at the History Center. As a testament to its popularity, a reception was held in January for the Living Treasures with 70 people in attendance.

In addition to various artifacts from the community on display on the first floor, a year-long exhibit is housed on the second floor of the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum. Items exhibited are taken from collections which include World War I and World War II memorabilia, Hermitage Farm, D.W. Griffith, Annie Fellows Johnston and the Little Colonel, antique farm implements, rare photographs, authentic Civil War letters, and family collections from people who once lived in the Oldham County community. Many times visitors to the museum make a connection to these people who were their neighbors.

The Oldham County Historical Society campus is composed of three buildings: J.C Barnett Library & Archives, Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum and the Rob Morris Educational Building. The latter building is a restored 1880’s chapel where many programs take place.

The challenge the Historical Society faces now is in broadening its audience and acquiring funding to constantly improve its offerings and renovate and upgrade the museum. Creating a unique experience for visitors and residents alike will hopefully draw more attention to the Historical Society so that it can continue its mission of creating, maintaining and managing for the benefit of all Oldham Countians “a physical presence, an organizational structure, a strong financial base and an endowment, staff and volunteers, collections, exhibits, educational programs, activities and special events and a publications program.”

Educator/Genealogist Helen E. McKinney can be reached at the Oldham County History Center at Helen@oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.