I recently traveled to Portland, Indiana to cover the Jay County Art and Fiber show. While there, one of the opportunities on this hosted trip was to see the two Jay County museums. Since I love history and to learn about the place I am visiting, this was just the icing on the cake!
One ascinating fact about Jay County is that it is the only county in the United States named for John Jay. Jay was the co-author of the Federalist Papers, Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, and first Chief Justice of the United States.
Jay County Historical Museum
My mom, Lori Disque traveled with me to this show. The first stop on our Jay County museums tour was the wonderful Jay County Historical Museum. With history, culture and agricultural preservation always on my mind this stop fit the bill!
Jay County Tourism’s Blake Watson is a genealogical fan as well as a board member of the museum. He was the perfect person to take mom and I on a guided tour. First stop was the genealogy section . “This is a regional genealogy museum. We have probate, census, cemetery and county, city and township historical history,” Blake said.
Blake has his own connection to genealogy. “I started in the 5th grade in 4H.” he shared. He showed us the extensive genealogical chart he has composed. It was quite impressive.
Along with Blake, board member Karen Resler also greeted us as well. Phone directories date back to 1907.
Next was the Dr. Eugene Gillum room. Dr. Gillum’s name would come up here and there during my Jay County Visit.
Dr. Gillum was a beloved physician that also loved airplanes. According to his obituary, when he passed at the age of 92, during World War II, “He was working with B-29 combat crews. In 1944 he was inducted into the Army Air Corp as part of the 20th Air Force, 315 Bomb Wing in Guam. While in Guam, Eugene worked on his beloved B-29 and took many photos of the B-29 Nose art.”
Dr. Gullum even wrote a book . learned more about this when I visited the Museum of the Solder.
Dr. Gullum and his wife Jane collected antique drug bottles and other glass art. “They donated their collection,” Blake said.
There is also some lovely artwork by his talented wife Jane as well on display.
The museum section on local church history. There is a Bible dating back to the 1880’s. A painted picture of Jesus that brings the church history all together.
Along with this local history, there is also an array of High school pictures. These offer those that lived in the County or have family here a chance to reflect!
The Pioneer Room and more
The Pioneer Room offered a peek into pioneer furniture and glances at some of the Jay County museums forefathers. Pictures showed history of Jay County like a lagoon park that is now gone.
Mom reminded Blake and I that before television citizens had to do activities (like play in the lagoon) to keep themselves busy!
We were duly impressed with the lecture room where on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. The Jay County Historical Museum offers up a variety of lectures on history. One of the most popular Blake said was a local detective that gave talks on unsolved murder mysteries!
Jay County’s Dunkirk, Indiana has an amazing glass history. In fact, the Glass Museum, is one that I still have to see when I get a chance. At one time the town of Dunkirk had over a dozen glass factories. Now there is only one still open. At one time, they made 1.5 million bottles a day,” Blake shared.
Jay County Farm Bureau History
The Jay County Farm Bureau is celebrating their 100 year anniversary. “We are very proud of our Hoosier farms, several are Century Farms,” Blake said.
He had a map with several of the century farms highlighted. There were also neat historical agricultural photos as well.
The War Room has items from the Civil War on. “Folks fought in wars and donated items,” Blake said.
My favorite item in the room was an amazing picture in downtown Indianapolis in 1917 where a group of folks gathered around before leaving for the war.
Jay County museums also profiled the Jay County Civil War solder that was the last Civil War Solider to die in battle. I would learn more about him at the Museum of the Solder.
Kitchen Dining and Home Ec Room & School Room
These areas offered several items to enjoy along with a thimble collection from around the world. I loved the array of old time fashions from dresses to hats that they have on display.
There is even a current display on women’s undergarments. It is amazing what all they were required to wear!
My husband admired the farm toy pictures when I got home and showed him. Old toys are fun.
The One Room School during certain times of the year offers great entertainment. One of the volunteers dresses as a teacher and goes over a lesson, Blake told us.
In these sections and beyond we learned some of the Miami and Delaware Indian history.
After raising a million dollars through a Capital Campaign, the museum was able to add on a new addition. This section highlights some of the fascinating industry in Jay County museums history. There was the Natural Gas Boom, the Bimel Wooden Spokes Wheel and more.
The wheel museum later became the Jay Garment factory and that building now is the Jay County Antique Mall. This has a personal connection because we stayed at the Ferris House which is owned by Brad and Pat Daniels who live there.
The Ferris House was also built by Elwood P. Haynes who made the Haynes Automobile. So much history and so many connections. Come to this amazing museum to learn more!
Museum of the Solder
The Museum of the Soldier is a non-profit museum that I was honored to visit with Jim Waechter as my guide. Mom and I along with a another writer and her husband got the gold tour. Jay County Museums share fascinating history
Founding the museum
The museum was founded by three local military historians James Waechter, Brian Williamson, and Michael McBride. Using their collections and traveling displays they shared with others with a goal of preserving and presenting histories of the men and women, the families and workers back home, during times of war, of peace, and peace keeping.
In 1997 after raising money since the early 1980’s, this wonderful museum found a home in the former Coca Cola bottling plant in Portland, Indiana.
There are so many things that Jim, and Brian Williamson who happened to be at the museum shared with us during our tour. The museum has a 10 member board with 800 members. They offer presentations and have speakers come in.
Most members Jim, who is a former Marine, said are former veterans.
Some of the highlights of the museum include the uniform of local astronaut Kevin Ford who served on the Space Station. Jim shared that Dr. Gillum (who I heard about at the history museum) delivered Mr. Ford and he took Dr. Gillum’s book into space with him. There is a whole story about how it was shared from space!
A beautiful statue created by local sculptor Josh Shepherd of a Vietnam Veteran was donated to the museum in 2003. “Josh uses our stuff for his sculptures,” Jim added.
Civil War Solder
That same Civil War soldier I learned about at the historical museum, the last one to die during the war was mentioned here. “We put a tombstone on his grave.”
Jim and Brian told us that the Jay County National Guard Unit was the only one to go to Vietnam.
Information on this and the highest decorated marine from Indiana is on display. I was fascinated about a story of a woman that everyone had thought was a secretary and they later learned through some detective work by Jim that she actually was a spy and worked for the CIA!
“The military game me more opportunities than I could imagine,” Jim said. “I went around the world.” Jim said.
The museum had many stories of heroes and their medals. One story that really resonated with me was of the Chief Petty officer on the USS Cole. They have the coveralls he wore the day the Cole was blown up. “He was sitting in the mess hall head and heard, ‘Cliff leave’ but there was no one there, he heard it again so he put down his tray and go out. He was saved,” Jim said.
Divine intervention? They think so, and neither do I.
During 911, one true hero was the Commander and Chief, President Busch. It is really cool that at the museum the phone that President George Walker Bush used during 911 is there. What a piece of history.
Medal of honor stories were so touching. Stories of men holding onto mementos that tell their stories.
For me, the daughter of a Korean veteran, the Korean War history is tops. I loved the story of the US Flag that brave young men snuck back into the building, then tore from the room. This was the building where peace talks had gone on in 1952 before the North Koreans terminated the talks.
This museum is wonderful There are so many stories. My mom said, “What I love is that when they have a uniform, or a medal, they tell the story about it.”
As mom said, the displays are not just static objects, they are living history stories about men and women and how they contributed to keeping the peace.
There are too many stories to tell in this blog. You need to schedule a visit and see for yourself just what there is in this amazing museum that veterans worked so hard to bring about.
To learn more about what to do and see in Jay County, check out the Jay County Tourism Bureau!