BOTKINS — An historic building in Botkins is getting a face-lift and its owners it thinks it signifies anorganization’s rebirth that started two years ago.
The Botkins Historical Society has begun a siding project on its museum at 403 W. State St. and hopes this is just the beginning of a vibrant community institution.
“We hope to be able to open up our building year-round and envision people being able to come in to research for themselves and/or the community, as well as support community events for those who wish to use it,” said society President Greg Geis.
The group has a two-phase plan to accomplish that goal. The siding project is part of the first phase, which also calls for insulation, paint, gutters and blinds.
“The exterior siding and paint are in very bad shape and the building is viewed by many to be an eyesore in the community. Originally, we intended to keep the existing siding, but after one meeting, we walked out and found that a bird had flown into the existing wood and it was so rotten that the bird actually got stuck and died in place. We took that as a sign that saving the existing siding was not an option,” said Geis.
What is being removed is covering that was part of the original construction completed in 1865. The structure was the Shelby House Hotel, which served railway travelers through the early 1900s. A series of owners then let it fall into total disrepair.
It was purchased by the historical society in 1975 and extensive renovations were done at that time.
“Fast forward 40 years and history had started to repeat itself,” Geis said. “Many of the early founders of the society had moved on for various reasons, interest faded and very few were left to look after the building as its condition deteriorated.”
In 2015, a meeting was called to determine the fate of the old hotel. Out of that meeting, a group of new supporters has brought renewed life to the organization. Members have begun to catalog the collection of artifacts and to work to increase society holdings.
“We need to be as proactive as possible, rather than reeactive, in order to save this for our future and give community members the confidence to trust us with any historical artifacts they would like us to care for,” Geis said.
To keep its historic look and feel, the museum will be resided with cedar wood.
“(This is) one of the few wood frame buildings used as hotels that survived,” said society trustee Dave Hemmert. “It embodies the beginnings of Botkins. The railroad was a big deal. You could rent livery and go to Minster or Jackson Center. Business was so good, they added on a back part.”
The hotel was built by Phillip Sheets, so it’s appropriate that a charitable fund established by the wife of one of his descentents is supporting its preservation. Donations from Tennesseean Gary Wilson, whose ancestors are buried in the village but who, Geis said, “has never lived a day of his life in Botkins,” and income from a pork lunch fundraiser make up the rest of the budget.
The second phase of renovation will be the installation of a heating and cooling system that will permit year-round use of the building and protect its interior and the museum’s artifacts from extreme temperatures.
“People say we have a lot of artifacts for a small town museum and I think we do,” Hemmert said.
Plans call for Phase 2 to begin next year; however, additional monies are needed to purchase a screen door, gutters and blinds in order to complete Phase 1.
Increasing membership, the trustees said, is one way to get those necessary dollars. An individual membership is $10 per year; a family membership is $25. Forms are available at www.botkinshistory.org.
While work on the museum is an outward sign of an active organization, the historical society has established several programs that are growing in popularity. Santa visits at Christmastime and an ice cream social in August attracts a large following. The society recently hosted a successful tour of historic churches and designed a fundraising grouch election (see sidebar).
“We are always interested in donations or loans of any historical artifacts and in information related to the village of Botkins,” Geis said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.