The new Buckeye Agricultural Museum, which opened in Wooster this spring, has plenty of interesting items from the state’s farm history. But those old tools are not as important as the stories, says Paul Locher, curatorial adviser and director for the museum. "We’re putting a high priority on things that bring a story with them," he says. "Without stories, it’s just stuff."
The museum itself has a story that goes back to the 1960s. Gov. Jim Rhodes, along with farmers and other political leaders, came up with the idea for an agricultural museum. A site was chosen close to the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center near Wooster. Around the time of the country’s bicentennial in 1976, the idea gained momentum, and ground was broken for the project in 1984. But by then, the farm economy was faltering and Rhodes had been replaced as governor by Dick Celeste. Funding for the project evaporated, and the building never materialized. Even so, the idea for the museum never died, Locher says. "People who wanted things from their families enshrined in there held on to them," he says.
Efforts to establish a museum rekindled in 2013 when Locher and five other men organized a nonprofit group called Friends of the Wayne County Fair. They originally thought a museum might be built on the fair property, but the fairgrounds are in a floodplain so new buildings can’t be built there. As the group considered other sites they noticed a property across the road from the fairgrounds was available for lease, and when they contacted the owner he agreed to sell the land and building for the museum.
Over the years, the property purchased for the museum has been used as an implement dealership, truck dealership and rental center. The buildings have 19,500 square feet of space and large overhead doors, which make it easy to move large exhibit pieces into the building, explains Ron Grosjean, president of the museum group. The building sits on a 3.5-acre fenced lot, which provides room for parking and for future building expansion and outdoor exhibits. In the meantime, the building and lot help generate income for the museum, Grosjean says. Part of the building space is being rented out for camper and boat storage. During the fair, the grounds are used for fair parking, which brings in about $12,000 per year.
A private individual financed the purchase of the site and the museum group is paying off the loan at $50,000 per year. Besides bringing in income with fair parking and storage, the group has been organizing fundraisers such as golf outings and rib fests. The museum effort also received a significant boost from a $400,000 grant from the Ohio’s capital improvement fund for renovation of the property. Museum organizers received those funds last fall and the money had to be spent by the end of the year, Locher says. That set off a flurry of activity to renovate the building inside and out.
The renovation included construction of a 36-foot concrete silo at the building entrance. "It was the first time anyone had built a silo within the city of Wooster for many, many years," Grosjean says.
Besides exhibit space, the museum building has a meeting room that will hold 150 people, plus other smaller meeting spaces and a kitchenette. Spaces for an art gallery and gift shop are planned as well. The building has already become a regular meeting place for local service groups, as well as 4-H clubs, Locher says. "There’s something going on here constantly," he says.
Open for tours
The museum property has been open for tours during the Wayne County fair for the last several years as organizers worked to build interest in the project. However, the exhibit galleries have just been added this year. The museum was open for tours every Saturday in May, and will be open again during the fair in September. The exhibit space is also open for group tours by appointment.
Organizers are continuing to accept donated items to fill the exhibits, Locher says. They want to avoid duplication and are looking for items in good condition that illustrate the history of farming in northwest Ohio and around the state.
"We’re letting people know that we’re here and this can be a home for some of the things their kids don’t want," Locher says. The museum is not accepting any items on loan, he adds.
One of the museum's goals is to educate young people about the work that went into developing Ohio’s agricultural industry, Grosjean says. "Our fathers and grandfathers had to work a lot harder than our kids today," he adds. "They had to make the tool before they could do the work."
The oldest piece in the museum is a millstone that was probably brought into the state in the early 1800s. It originated in France and crossed the ocean as ship ballast.
The largest machine in the museum at this point is a Russell Steam Engine built in Massillon, Ohio in the 1920s. Eventually, museum organizers hope to adapt it to run on compressed air to safely demonstrate the machine’s moving parts. Organizers also have plans to reconstruct a historic log barn within the museum.
One of Locher’s favorite pieces on display is a two-row, horse-drawn corn planter built in Dayton in the 1880s or ’90s. It was designed to be driven by an adult while a child sat on the front seat pulling a lever back and forth to drop seed in one row and then the other as the planter was pulled through the field. "He probably hardly had time to talk on his cell phone when he was doing that," Locher jokes.
For additional information on donating to the museum or arranging tours, call 330-845-2825 or email [email protected].