BELMONT — T.C. Steele State Historic Site has 200-plus acres of woods and gardens to explore.
It has more than 50 paintings by the artist considered to be the father of Indiana impressionism.
It has no flush toilets and very little running water.
“Barbara and I decided, ‘That’s not really what T.C. Steele and Selma should be remembered for,’” said Bob Stevens, standing in front of blueprints for a new building at the historic site in western Brown County.
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Late last month, the Columbus couple turned the first shovels-full of dirt for a modern visitor center to complement the Steeles’ House of the Singing Winds.
In addition to the historic site’s first real restrooms, the new building will contain a gift shop, elevator, classroom space for visiting artists, staff offices and a coffee shop.
The inspiration came to the couple on a visit to another impressionist’s home: Claude Monet’s in Giverny, France.
“We got there early with our tour guide and sat there in this amazing coffee shop at Giverny, waiting for our tour. And we began to think to ourselves, ‘What happens to people here (at T.C. Steele) when they’re early?’ They really have nowhere to go,” Barbara said.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that at the House of the Singing Winds?”
The new, 4,600-square-foot, two-story building is rising out of the steep hillside between Steele’s Large Studio and the pit toilets. It will allow the site to offer additional programming, provide an indoor facility to rent and offer catering space for events, state museum officials said.
Constructing the new building will allow some of the historical ones on the property to be restored as well, when ticket sales, the gift shop and offices move out of them.
The new visitor center is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.
A $1 million gift, to be matched by the state, is funding the project, according to the Indiana State Museum. The state is helping to bring utilities to the site, through rough terrain off State Road 46 West.
T.C. Steele State Historic Site has been a special place for the Stevens family for decades, Barbara Stevens said.
The couple’s two sons went to school in Bloomington, so this was sometimes a stop on the way to or from. One of their sons would run and bike the steep hills; and when their first grandchild was small, she liked to play near the lily ponds, Barbara said.
The couple also recently helped to restore those ponds; and several other donors, including Gary and Kathy Anderson and Ruth and Jenny Johnson from Brown County, have helped to bring Selma Steele’s many gardens back to life.
“This is a national treasure,” Bob Stevens said.
“We need to take it to the next level.”