By JOAN COSTELLO
A lot of copy is appearing in the media these days about the possibility of
library consolidation. Because I work for our library, Iím quite familiar
with the information.
My problem is not of comprehension, itís of trying to identify the players. I
feel a growing sense of frustration that signing up for Friends of the
Library doesnít relieve. I wish I knew someone in the legislature who I could
sit down and talk with directly.
This is what I would say:
I want you to know about our local history museum, which is part of
Westchester Public Library. In this proposed consolidation, the future of our
museum would be in grave jeopardy because Porter County already has a history
museum and probably wouldnít support a second one. But our museum is ours!
Itís our history. For two years we have been housed in the Brown Mansion,
built in 1885 by George and Charity Brown at 700 W. Porter Avenue. The
Duneland School Corporation owned the property for many years, using it as
their administration headquarters. In the 1980ís, the School Corporation
undertook a major renovation of the building, and in a stroke of genius (so
considered by those of us who love old houses) decided to decorate the
original front rooms of the house in the Victorian style typical of the time
when George and Charity lived there.
This place is a local treasure. Today, for example 50 3rd graders from
Liberty School came for a visit. In small groups they sat at my feet while I
explained to them what it would be like to be a child growing up in a house
like this. I explained pocket doors, stenciled ceilings, and what Victorian
architecture meant. At the end, I taught them how to shake hands, firmly and
looking me in the eye, which is what Victorian children learned to do to show
respect. They all took it seriously and lined up to shake my hand.
They, like all our school visit children, spent time in the exhibit area
where the history of our area was explained, from prehistoric tools to Jesse
Morganís post office, to the coming of railroads, the growth of businesses,
the building of churches and schools. They saw arrowheads, a pioneer
traveling trunk, a school bell, photographs, maps, drawings, all kinds of
things that speak to them of their history right here.
Earlier the children climbed the steep stairs to the attic to visit the
museum storage area. Thatís my major concern, and I value the organization in
which we store and preserve our artifacts. It is our responsibility to care
for these items, clothing, tools, scrapbooks, photographs, baby shoes,
tickets for the Aron theatre and even a large sign protesting the coming of
big box stores. We have a ton of treasures up there waiting to be used for
research or on display.
And on the first floor? We have a research room where day after day, people
come in with thick files under their arms to do research, to search family
histories, to learn the history of their houses or their businesses. Recent
inquiries included research on local rattlesnakes, the Inter-Urban, Sears
houses, Ogden Dunes, and a long ago murder. Not to be overlooked are the
Prairie Club and the Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary Archives.
Liberty children came today. Next week it will be Brummitt or St. Patís or a
Scout group. We will work our magic on all of them hoping to encourage a love
of history and a respect for their heritage.
In the afternoon, adults come, sometimes with more children. Sometimes they
know the area and have lived here all their lives, sometimes they are passing
through. My favorites are the newcomers to the area who, like me, want to
know more local history.
So to the people of our legislature I say please let us keep our library and
our museum as it is, of our people and for our people. The loss to our
community of a treasure such as the Westchester Township History Museum is
not justified by cutting the 3% sliver of state budget which is allocated to
all the libraries in the state. And the next time you, member of the
legislature, are in Chesterton, come see us! Weíre open Wednesday through
Sunday from 1-5, but for you we might make special arrangements.