Pandemic rewrites history for Grove City sites in terms of plans

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
Don Ivers (left), curator of the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum, and Steve Jackson, president of the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society, stand in front of the Grant Sawyer Home on June 11. The museum, the homestead and the historical buildings at Century Village have been closed since March 13. It is uncertain when displays will be available for viewing.

Volunteers from the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society went out to work in the garden at the Grant-Sawyer homestead June 10.

It felt good to be outside and working in the soil, society president Steve Jackson said.

But it was more than that, he said.

"It's sort of the first sign of a light at the end of the tunnel that maybe things can get somewhat back to normal in the not too distant future," Jackson said.

The homestead, as well as the collection of historical buildings at Century Village in Fryer Park and the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum, have been closed since March 13 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The city owns the properties, and the historical society operates and manages them, museum curator Don Ivers said.

"We walked out of the museum on March 13 thinking we'd be open again the next day," he said. "We haven't been back since."

The museum is marking its 10th anniversary in 2020, and volunteers from the historical society were working earlier this year on a project to refurbish and upgrade the interior of the building at 3378 Park St. in Grove City's Town Center, Ivers said.

"We made some renovations to the parlor room in the northeast corner of the building and did a lot of repainting the walls throughout the building," he said.

Various rooms in the building are to be reorganized by theme, Ivers said.

The room that once served as a vault when the building was a bank will display items related to Grove City businesses, he said. The conference room will offer a display regarding the history of schools in the community while remaining a meeting room. The Grove City room will focus on items relating to life in the community.

The renovation work essentially was completed when the building was closed, Ivers said.

"When the museum finally reopens, it's going to look like a whole new museum to people," he said.

Although the museum building has been closed for three months, the city is maintaining the heating, air conditioning and humidity inside to help protect the historical artifacts, Ivers said.

"We have a great relationship with the city," Jackson said. "They lease the museum building to use for $1 a year and provide the regular maintenance of that building and the homestead and buildings at Century Village."

At the time it closed, the museum's featured exhibition related to the history of Beulah Park, including photographs and posters and a turnstile from the clubhouse entrance to the horse-racing track, which operated from 1923 to 2014.

The former racetrack site is being redeveloped as a mixed-use project.

The next scheduled exhibition was expected to open in June and feature model toy cars and collectibles, Ivers said.

"There were some big car shows that were going to be held in Grove City this summer, but now that they have all been canceled, we may never show the model car exhibition, he said. "We're planning an exhibition to honor veterans in our community for the fall, so that's what we'll probably focus on now."

It's uncertain when the museum will reopen, Jackson said.

"We follow the guidelines set by the city along with those that have been set by the governor's office and the state health department," he said. "We can't open until they give us the OK."

The same holds true for the Grant-Sawyer homestead and Century Village, Jackson said.

The homestead, which was one of the grand houses in the early history of Grove City, usually is open for tours Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays by appointment beginning in March.

The house is believed to have been built in the 1840s and has been restored to reflect the 1840-1880 era, Jackson said.

A barn at the site at 4126 Haughn Road also has been restored, he said.

The upstairs portion of the building is used to store some of the society's collection of historic items, Jackson said.

When the building is open, visitors can view a display of items including farm equipment, items that 19th century families would use to complete tasks like washing clothes and canning food and a kitchen.

There is also a plan to restore a carriage house on the property to serve as a visitors center, but that project may be delayed as a result of the financial effects of the pandemic, Jackson said.

The work to restore the interior of a circa 1864 train depot at Century Village has been completed, he said.

The depot was moved in January 2018 from its original location at Front and Park streets to Century Village. The city and historical society began a joint project to restore the building.

"We want to give people a sense of what a working train depot would look like in the 1880s," Jackson said.

The interior includes a replica of a waiting room, baggage room and ticket office, he said.

"We had the restoration mostly finished when the pandemic hit," Jackson said. "Some city maintenance workers stepped in and finished up what our group of volunteers had started."

The annual heritage celebration scheduled for June 6 at Century Village had to be canceled, but Jackson said he is hopeful the Old Time Harvest Festival could be held as scheduled Oct. 4.

"It hasn't been canceled at this point, and it isn't officially scheduled," he said. "Right now we're in wait-and-see mode."

The historical society also planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the welcome center and museum this year.

With the uncertainty of when the building will reopen to the public, "we may well be celebrating the 10th year anniversary in the 11th year," Jackson said.

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