VERSAILLES — As we await the annual return of spring this month, we are reminded that, although hours can be easily altered by turning the hands of a clock, the indefatigable pace of life, itself, sets forth the swift passage of real time. While some of our most enduring recollections seem to reside in the photos, mementos, and heirlooms collected over a lifetime, the colorful, simple details of an ordinary life, well-lived, often tell the real story.
Local history museums are the keepers of such cherished memories and moments, giving each generation new opportunities to appreciate the tenacity of our pioneer ancestors. After being closed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Versailles Area Museum, now in its 12th year, reopened last Sunday for its 2021 season to the delight of many Darke County residents and visitors, with another open house planned for Sunday, April 11, from 1 to 4 p.m. Presenting its fresh, newly remodeled look, with over 20 rooms of displays and exhibits, the museum does require patrons and visitors to wear face masks and practice social distancing, with the exception of household members who may tour together. Hand sanitizer will continue to be available throughout the exhibit areas.
“Even though we were closed, our donors and members were wonderful, and supported the museum, helping to cover the monthly operating expenses,” said Board Member Tom Mendenhall, who also served as a museum docent for the afternoon. “It’s home. We were sad about being closed, but felt that we should follow the governor’s suggestions for safety, especially for our older patrons, members, and volunteers. We are thrilled to be getting back to normal, and welcome visitors from all over the county and beyond!”
The Versailles Area Museum offers patrons the experience of examining artifacts from the late 1800s and turn-of-the-century, including print articles, photos, furniture, clothing, signage, and heirlooms. The Military Room, considered by many to be the “crown jewel” of the Museum, houses numerous artifacts and family collections from the period of the Civil War to the present, belonging to local Versailles residents and surrounding communities. Other notable exhibits include School Room, with artifacts from a rural one-room schoolhouse; Early Railroads exhibit; 1901 Great Versailles Fire Exhibit; General Store Exhibit, with a replica mercantile store and artifacts; the Versailles town hall “Calaboose” jail; as well as permanent exhibit areas for the histories of Osgood, Yorkshire, Willowdell, Brock, Frenchtown, and Webster.
New exhibits this season are the completed Victorian Parlor, with period furnishings, now connected to the replica 1900s kitchen and dining area, which depicts he quaint, elegant relaxation of a Victorian parlor — every fashionable homeowner’s expectation in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Also new at the museum are the Auctioneering Exhibit and Engelken-Kleinschmidt Building exhibit, which feature artifacts recently unearthed by Ben and Karen Wietholter in the basement of Swift Gilly. Several new artifacts have been added to existing displays, such as an array of band uniforms to the Music and Art Exhibit, and a display of brass steam whistles and gauges to the Train and Railroad Exhibit. One noteworthy addition to the Military Room is an 1850-to-1860 Percussion Rifle, made by local gunsmith Elisha Woods McCraner, who served the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848).
The Versailles Area Historical Society (VAHS), which maintains the Museum, is a 501c(3) non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of local history that is funded strictly through the generosity of its members, volunteers and donors.
“Our mission is to promote awareness of the rich historical heritage that exists within the Versailles area. We love touring the elementary students every year to keep their interest in the history of this area. We have had historical speakers and programs at the museum,“ said Versailles Area Historical Society Board President, Deb Pohl. “Even if your not from any of the towns listed, if you like history, you’ll love our displays. Each display tells a story.”
Genealogist and museum member-volunteer, Diane Schrader, agrees. “We help many people who call or write to us. We give tours by appointment, for visitors from out-of-state, or visitors with special needs,” said Schrader, adding, “We welcome everyone to learn about their history.”
For non-profit museums, members and volunteers are essential for keeping the spirit and vision moving forward. Due to COVID, the VAHS was unable to host any fundraisers last year, which, in previous years, have included raffles, soup on the lawn, ice cream socials, and historical dinners. When asked how people can help support the museum’s mission, Pohl encourages residents to become more involved by volunteering and becoming VAHS members.
“People can volunteer to help do many things, from cleaning the museum, setting or changing displays, to telling the history of a room when we tour the school students. Volunteering here does not mean that you are here every day — Just when you want to be or when you can. We have lost several members that contributed a lot of time to the museum over the years. We could use more help. Another way is to become a member. The monies gained from memberships all go to the museum’s upkeep and programs that we offer,” explained Pohl. “It takes a lot of money per month to keep the museum doors open. Electric, water, insurance… are all are budgeted every year towards the museum. The Board of Directors and the volunteers do not get paid.”
Annual Versailles Area Historical Society Memberships are $25 for Adults, $10 for Youth, $40 for Families $125 for Business/Club under 25 employees, and $250 for Business/Club over 25 employees. All members are recognized in the museum and receive the “News and Views” quarterly newsletter. For more information, contact the museum at 937-526-4222, write VAHS, P. O. Box 54, Versailles, OH 45380, or visit the museum’s Facebook page. To schedule a private tour by appointment, call 937-423-1106, or 937-526-4303.