- Associated Press - Saturday, December 13, 2014

VEVAY, Ind. (AP) - Hundreds of items fill the Switzerland County Historical Society’s museums, but it’s the stories about the people linked to those items that give one a real look into the county’s past.

Martha Bladen, executive director of the Switzerland County Historical Society, came up with the idea of highlighting 200 items from the museums’ collections after seeing a similar project in the Smithsonian magazine.

Bladen’s idea was to feature an artifact for each year of Switzerland County’s existence, The Madison Courier reported (https://bit.ly/1uAMGOi ).

Last year, the Bicentennial celebrations of Vevay and Switzerland County were combined even though the official 200th anniversary of the county wasn’t until this year.

“I thought it was still important to make note of the county’s bicentennial,” Bladen said.



She began to research the people who donated, or who first owned and used, the selected items and find out how they helped to shape Switzerland County’s history.

“That’s when the project got interesting,” she said. “It’s become far richer than I ever thought.”

Museum officials have always been particular about the items included in the collection. Many people have tried to donate items to the museum, but each piece included in the collection must have local significance.

It’s the local connections and family stories that attracted the attention of several residents during the yearlong project.

“That’s what people like about it,” Bladen said of the project. “The (item’s) condition isn’t as important as the story.”

Take, for example, the 14th item included in the 200-item collection. While looking though old minutes of the Historical Society, officials found that a spinning wheel belonging to Mary Banta Thiebaud had been donated to the museum.

After looking through the museum’s collection, officials found one of two spinning wheels in the collection had a piece of adhesive tape with Thiebaud’s name written on it. A photo of Thiebaud further proved the item was indeed the authentic piece used in the late 1800s.

The item is now one of three items the museum has that are original to the Thiebaud Farmstead.

After undergoing restoration, the spinning wheel was returned to the house where it was used more than 150 years ago.

Signature quilts and naturalization papers in the museum’s collection have provided great insight for people attempting to trace their family ties during the project.

In some cases, families have found they have a connection to an item in the museum, even if that connection was several generations ago.

“I’m learning so much about people from things in the museum,” Bladen said. “It’s taken far more time than expected.”

While she had obvious choices for the project like Jean Jacque Dufour’s pruning hook and the Robert T. Graham ferryboat pilot’s wheel, other items have been included just to learn more about them.

Bladen said she still has a few items to research before the end of the year.

“I don’t have my final item yet,” she said.

After the project is completed, Bladen will incorporate it into the museum’s displays.

The photos and items in the 200 Objects, 200 Years project have also been posted in a digital collection at the end of each month for people to browse online. The digital collection may be found on the Switzerland County Historical Society’s website at www.switzcomuseums.org/200x200.html or the Switzerland County Historical Society page on Facebook.

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Information from: The Madison Courier, https://www.madisoncourier.com

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