Posted Oct. 19, 2016 at 8:30 AM
Half of the visitors at Williamson County Historical Society Museum are walking through the century-old doors with an agenda. They want to go back in time and find their families.
“It was decided many years ago by our society to cover both history in the form of the museum and also create an extensive collection of records in order for visitors to be able to do family research,” WCHS President Sam Lattuca said.
“We, yearly, have people from all over the USA and out of country doing research here, in addition to authors and history researchers,” Lattuca said. “We offer a number of services to the public, not to mention free WiFi.
“We have volunteers on hand to assist researchers in historical or genealogical matters, since we know what resources we have available and how to access them,” he said. “Or visitors can just forage on their own if they desire. We can help visitors get started on their research even if they don’t know where to start.”
Helen Lind of Johnston City volunteers two days a week, mostly in the museum’s genealogy department.
“I’ve always loved history. I like being able to help people find their roots,” she said.
The large brick building at 105 S. Van Buren St. in Marion, which now serves as the museum, originally housed the county jail. Visitors today can walk into the cells and imagine what it was like to be a guest there.
“I think most people’s reaction to the old jail cells is how primitive things appear, compared to today, and the amount of inmate graffiti that can be found embedded in concrete and steel,” Lattuca said.
All of the items in the museum have been donated, he said, but many of them originate with one early society leader, Ethel Ashby, who had an antique store in town called The Old Sleigh Bell.
“Even when she had her store, she had an historical section tucked away in the corner for display,” Lattuca said. “Upon closing her business, she donated many of her items to us, which gave the museum a real leg up on getting started.
“Everything else was donated primarily by local families looking for a good home for their heirloom items to be displayed as part of county history.”
The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Tours can be either guided or self-guided.
Lattuca recommends allocating about 90 minutes for a tour, since the building has four floors and 26 rooms.
Most of the museum’s operating income comes from yearly member dues, donations and book sales.
“We don’t charge a fee for visitors to tour the museum because we primarily want the museum to be used and don’t want money to stand in the way of education,” Lattuca said. “However, most visitors leave a donation based on what they feel like giving.”
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