By Charlotte Caldwell
SIDNEY – After five years in the making, the Wallace Family Learning and Innovation Center opened to the public April 18, teaching patrons about Shelby County’s rich history and inspiring them to make an impact.
The center has six focus areas with something new to look at around every corner and hands-on displays abound.
Patrons start at “Our Legacy Begins” with the first Shelby County settlers. Then it’s “Onward and Upward” with transportation, including the Miami and Erie Canal, planes and railroad and highway systems. “Our Land’s Bounty” explores agriculture and mining and features a foreign aid program in Shelby County after WWII. After that is “Industrial Ingenuity” discussing manufacturing from the early years to today and featuring Cargill and Emerson. “People of Impact” provides biographies of dozens of prominent individuals from Shelby County and gets people thinking about how they can make a difference. Finally, “Opportunity Awaits” features current community leaders and entrepreneurs discussing innovation and gives patrons information on starting a career.
“The Shelby County Historical Society (SCHS) staff and volunteers forged a collective vision, and over years of planning, hard work, and dedication, the dream for The Wallace Family Learning and Innovation Center was created,” the pamphlet describing the center reads. “The stories, interactives, and historical artifacts throughout this space are meant to honor our past, foster pride in our community and inspire great minds of the future.”
Every gallery in the center works in tandem to ensure the viewer leaves feeling inspired and motivated, according to Building Coordinator Jane Bailey.
“You can’t have one (gallery) without the other; they all link together. We did change how the flow of the building went because originally we had agriculture before transportation. Well, then we decided transportation was maybe a little bit more important than agriculture and agriculture leads more into industry,” Bailey said. “We wanted to make sure people left on the opportunity awaits gallery so that they can leave thinking about ‘well what do I want to do.’ It’s supposed to all get you thinking how people have impacted the community and what impact can I have.”
Four writers tackled gathering the information for the center. Bailey said 50 to 75% of the research was already done, but some topics needed more detail, such as the biographies in the “People of Impact” gallery. The information came from families of the featured individuals, history books, obituaries and newspaper articles.
“Every sign you see, every plaque was written by members of the Shelby County Historical Society,” Bailey said. “We’re still working on a lot of those biographies just because there are so many, but we at least made sure we had a good 50 to 100 words about every person.”
She also explained the steps the historical society took to open, including getting the three-quarters of a million dollar price tag fully funded with the help of lead donors and avid supporters Rich and Susan Wallace – after which the center is named – among many other private donations.
“First we had to go through several different steps. First we had to buy the building, then we had to come up with a construction company and design team… we had to do a lot of remodeling work to make it a clean slate for us to work from. So that was probably a two-year process, just getting the building emptied out, gutted, new walls put in, new bathrooms put in. We had the basement converted into a staircase and a lift, otherwise it was just a ramp going down into the basement,” Bailey said. “The first design team fell through, so then we ended up getting involved with Eleven Fifty Seven here in Sidney and then they brought on 1913 Media Group.”
It’s fitting that the Lochard building the center is housed in has a history of its own. Bailey explained that it was built in 1952 by the Lochard family to be used as an appliance shop for the Lochard Plumbing, Heating and Cooling business, then it was a typewriter shop, and most recently a T-shirt shop.
Multiple groups toured the center before it opened to the public, and Bailey said the feedback has been all positive.
“The most common thing I’ve heard people say is ‘I never expected to see this in Sidney, Ohio. This looks like something you’d see in Dayton,’” Bailey said. “When people go through they’re just blown away by the technology and the wall graphics and it’s definitely a more higher caliber museum than what a lot of people think of in little Sidney, Ohio. And that’s what we wanted to do, we wanted to bring that kind of caliber museum to the community, because it is far to drive to Cincinnati Museum Center or the Dayton Art Institute. It’s a long drive to get to one of those; we should have one of those in our hometown. We should be proud of it.”
The Wallace Family Learning and Innovation Center is located at 115 E. North St., right across the street from the historical society’s Ross Historical Center. The center is free with donations accepted and is open Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and other hours by appointment. For more information, visit the Facebook page, the website at https://www.shelbycountyhistory.org/learningcenter.htm, or call 937-498-1653.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.