NEW PALESTINE — Nestled in the corner of the book nook sits a framed land deed for 80 acres of New Palestine property, purchased in 1820.
A closer look at the bottom of the old, faded deed, made of sheepskin, reveals the signature of Andrew Jackson, yes, the same Andrew Jackson who went on to become the seventh president of the United States in 1829.
It’s one of the many historical artifacts ready for patrons to discover in the newly created New Palestine History Museum, which is set to open next week.
Museum curator Becky Gaines is quite familiar with the collection. Land deeds like the one bearing Jackson’s signature, she said, were signed in Ohio back then because there was no one in the New Palestine area who was legally able to do so.
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For the past several months, Gaines, volunteers and town officials have been working diligently to repair one of the town’s oldest structures, the Mary M. Nichols building, 11 E. Main St., home of the new museum.
After years of sitting empty, the building has become the official home of New Palestine Main Street and museum, both not-for-profit organizations.
An open house for the museum is planned from 4:30 to 7 p.m. April 7. Residents will have a chance to meet the New Palestine Main Street Board and partake in refreshments, including a cake-cutting ceremony, to celebrate the grand opening.
The museum has been a long time coming. For years, Gaines and town officials have been gathering and collecting historical pieces that tell the town’s rich history.
“You couldn’t do something like this without the love for the town and the help of the community,” Gaines said.
And boy, did the community come through with some gems.
“Look at that 48-star flag,” Gaines said, pointing at an old framed U.S. flag, hanging on the wall.
The flag was carried in an Armistice Day parade by Ruth Tucker Guilkey Ashman, a New Palestine resident who was 6 years old in 1918.
The old building that houses the museum is a local historical landmark itself. It was donated to the town as a gift from the former Library Group, one of many organizations to occupy it through the years.
The town council spent an estimated $13,000 to repair the old structure, then designated it the new home for the town museum.
The Nichols building has a storied past. Built in the 1800s, it has been a general store, post office, kindergarten and library, among other things.
Today, its artifacts tell those stories and more dating back to the town’s inception in 1817.
Gaines loves watching people make personal connections with the items on display.
“What is really rewarding is hearing people who come in, look at something and say, ‘Oh, I remember that,’” Gaines said.
The museum is divided into several sections, including a Dragon’s Den showcasing New Palestine High School trophies and graduation photos dating all the way to 1907.
There’s also a section dedicated to the town’s police and fire departments as well as area farmers.
And it’s just the start.
“I’ve still got room to grow,” Gaines said. “I’m hoping people will drop off even more items, so we can really make this something.”
Longtime New Palestine resident Carolyn Jean Jonas said she was thrilled when she caught wind of an official New Palestine museum. It’s a great way to preserve the town’s heritage, she said.
“It’s just so heartwarming to me,” Jonas said, “just to see what they’ve collected here really pulls our town history and everything together.”
Located along U.S. 52 (known to some as the old Brookville Road), New Palestine was a stop along a main thoroughfare long ago. It was a major hub for those traveling back and forth to Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
“The tradition that this town has and what we will now keep can’t be found in other places,” Gaines said.
Town officials have agreed to chip in about $3,000 per year to cover the cost of utility bills for now.
Town officials wanted to support the project at the outset until fundraising efforts could take over, clerk-treasurer Becky Hilligoss said.
A longtime New Palestine resident with deep family roots in the community, Hilligoss said the decision to create a history museum for the town was the right one.
“I think anytime a building can be preserved in a small town like ours, that is an A-plus that thrills me,” Hilligoss said.
“It helps to keep the character of our town on Main Street.”
The museum will be open free of charge to the community following the open house.
Gaines said she’s looking for volunteers to come in and sit with the building during official museum hours, which are expected to be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday mornings. Interested volunteers are asked to stop by the open house.
New Palestine History Museum open house
Tuesday, April 7
4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Mary M. Nichols Building, 11 E. Main Street.