Group shelves facility plans: Downtown site sold to private local company

Plans to relocate the Bartholomew County Historical Society to a larger facility near Fifth and Washington streets have been permanently scrapped.

The former Brad’s Furniture Gallery at 538 Washington St., purchased by the historical society in late 2014, has been sold to a privately held local company, said Jason Hatton, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

The building was sold to Big Skies LLC on Jan. 26 for $500,000, according to real estate records. That’s $50,000 more than what the historical society paid for the three-floor building in December 2014.

Established in 2001, Big Skies LLC deals in leasing real estate property and has a mailing address on Grandview Lake in Columbus. Ryan A. and Annette C. Moravec, Big Skies’ owners, could not be reached to comment on their plans for Washington Street building.

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In late 2014, the historical society began down a path to invest $1.8 million in the 16,920-square-foot former furniture gallery for a new headquarters and museum over a three- to five-year period. At the time, former executive director Julie Hughes said the benefit of moving into the larger building was to improve the society’s visibility and patronage.

After Hughes resigned in November 2015, the museum’s plans — which included interactive, durable and age-appropriate exhibits — were temporarily shelved by the board for further study, Hatton said.

Now, the 11-member board has determined that a large museum is not the way to go, Hatton said.

The decision was made after board members studied the constantly changing ways that people consume information, he said.

“Are people really willing to go to a new physical location, pay an admission and spend considerable time?” Hatton asked. “Or do we want to have displays throughout the community where people are already going?”

Display cases containing historical exhibits will be placed inside The Commons next month, said Diane Robbins, the historical society’s new executive director.

With today’s technology, exhibits placed at different locations can easily be tied together through mobile apps, Hatton said.

The board wants the museum, located in the McEwen-Samuels-Marr House at 524 Third Street, to maintain a downtown presence, Hatton said.

Although the Third Street building is limited to 3,500 square feet of space, that is where an exhibit on Arvin Industries, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Columbus during the last half of the 20th century, will open in early March, Robbins said

But the historical society is now leaning toward focusing more resources and efforts on the society’s Henry Breeding Farm, located on County Road 100W near Edinburgh, Hatton said.

“That is a great property with lots of potential,” he said. “We want to increase its usage.”

By selling the former furniture gallery for a profit, the board finds itself in a position to move forward strategically and make revised plans for future growth, he said.

Strategic planning includes expanding museum programming to appeal to all ages in a variety of ways, Robbins said.

Historical society key dates

1921: The Bartholomew County Historical Society is created.

1973: The historical society moves out of the Bartholomew County Courthouse and into the McEwen-Samuels-Marr House. The building at 524 Third St. has 3,500 square feet of space to house exhibits and offices.

1982: Due to space needs, a growing number of artifacts are moved to the society’s Henry Breeding Farm, the United Way building and other areas.

2015: Both executive director Julie Hughes and education manager Anna Barnett resign in November.

2016: Retired businessman Tom Brosey hired as part-time interim director in February. The historical society operates with two employees, museum manager Cody Harbaugh and education director Adam Rediker.

2017: The historical society announces it will hire Diane Robbins as the new executive director.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.