The ‘wow’ factor

It’s going to take a whole lot more than a fresh coat of paint to bring the old Federal Building at the corner of Chestnut and Third streets in Seymour back to life again.

Lenny Hauersperger said he is well aware of the amount of time, work and money needed to transform the historic structure, built in 1915 and first used in 1918 as a post office, from its current state of disrepair into a museum showcasing Seymour’s history.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, Hauersperger, who serves as president of the Seymour Museum board of directors, is enthusiastic about the small steps being taken now to ensure the building’s future.

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One of those steps is the renovation of the old postmaster’s office located to the right off the hallway leading from the main front entrance.

“We wanted it to have a ‘wow’ factor, and I think it does,” Hauersperger said of the room, which was used as the mayor’s office when the building served as city hall in the late 1960s.

It then became the police chief’s office in the mid-1990s, but the building has been sitting vacant since the new police station opened a block to the east on Ewing Street in 2007.

Windows and woodwork in the renovated office have been restored to their original state; ductwork and old wiring have been removed; the drop ceiling was taken out, which revealed an original safe that was once used to store stamps and money; and the walls have been stripped and painted, the ceiling replastered and the carpeting ripped up to show off the original wood flooring.

All of the paint was donated by Seymour Decorating. Hauersperger said many local businesses and individuals are getting involved by donating materials or labor and making financial contributions.

To get the best pricing on services, Hauersperger said he has been requesting at least three quotes on each project and then choosing the lowest.

“I’m being extremely tight with the money we have,” he said.

He expects to spend less than $1,000 to complete the postmaster/mayor’s office.

“We’ve been able to use all local contractors,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people want to help.”

On Monday, Steve Ward from S&B Wallcoverings in Seymour was finishing up the inside window trim in the office. Ward also completed the front exterior window trims in 2013.

“I’m kind of a history buff, so it’s great to be able to work in a building like this,” Ward said. “It’s going to be really nice when it’s all finished.”

Ward said he had to scrape four or five layers of paint off the walls before they could be refinished.

Although some work had been done prior to Hauersperger getting involved with the museum project, the majority of activity, including major repairs to the roof and interior demolition, has been completed in the last year. That’s when the board was reorganized with Hauersperger at the helm.

Other board members include Kevin Greene, Robert Kamman, Carol King, Charlotte Sellers, Connie Gerth, Mark Hopkins, Shirley Runge, Don Bruce, former Mayor Jim Bullard and city attorney Rodney Farrow.

The board is dedicated to restoring the building to preserve and share the history of Seymour with youth, visitors to the community and future generations.

Some of the first items that will be on display include the E.S. Welch collection of old telephones and other memorabilia owned by the city, a life-size model of a horse that will be hitched up to a mail carriage and other antiques such as a 1952 bicycle, a Singer sewing machine and a shoe press donated by the former Ken’s Shoe Repair, an office time clock from Blish Mill and tickets from the 1901 county fair that was conducted at the Seymour Fairgrounds, which is now Shields Park.

“I’m currently in talks with local businesses, especially those that are closing, about possibly donating artifacts or equipment to the museum,” Hauersperger said. “They’ll be forever lost if I don’t approach them now.”

Lots of photographs also will be included in the museum, depicting historical sites, people, happenings and events in Seymour.

Hauersperger said he has already begun tearing out ductwork and wiring in the old clerk/treasurer’s office, which is the next room the museum board plans to tackle. That room is located on the left side of the hallway from the main entrance.

By completing one room, the museum can start displaying some of the artifacts and memorabilia it has stored to show people progress is being made.

“You can’t do it all at once,” Hauersperger said. “We just have to take it room by room. I’m anxious to keep the momentum going.”

Hauersperger said he is in talks with officials with the Southern Indiana Model Railroad Association about renting the second floor for their displays and club meetings. The second floor once served as the meeting room for city council.

Other possibilities for the building include a museum office, where the police dispatch area was located in the back of the building. Hauersperger also said he’d like to see a meeting room that could be rented out, a gift shop and an area with a movie screen to show historical movies.

He also thinks the museum would be a good location for a genealogy library for people to research their family history.

The board is applying for a Community Development Block Grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. If the application is successful, the money would be put to use to hire Christine Matheu of Matheu Architects in Bloomington to draw up blueprints for the museum.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll get approved for this grant, which will help us have finite plans, and it’ll help with future fundraising opportunities,” Hauersperger said.

Matheu was involved with the renovation of several buildings in downtown Seymour and the Bedford Museum, which is serving as a mentor for the Seymour Museum board. Hauersperger has visited the Bedford Museum and several other similar institutions to talk to people and get ideas on how to make the museum happen.

Raising money isn’t easy, but the board is being creative in finding ways to fund the renovation and restoration work.

One source of income the board has to work with comes from the recent sale of a home owned by Mary Vehslage, who died Feb. 27, 2015. She donated the home to the project because she supported efforts to establish a city museum, Hauersperger said.

The board is using most of that money to set up an endowment fund in Vehslage’s memory at the Community Foundation of Jackson County, which will earn interest to help provide operating costs for the museum in the future.

The museum board also is meeting with Seymour Main Street and the Jackson County Visitor Center to see how those organizations can assist in meeting some of the museum’s immediate needs.

“They do a great job in assisting downtown businesses and nonprofits and improving the downtown,” he said. “It would be great to partner with them in some way.”

A group of museum studies graduate students from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has been helping with plans by providing ideas and guidance.

They will give their final report in May.

And the museum will be one of many volunteer work sites included in this year’s United Way Day of Caring in May.

“We really are getting a lot done,” Hauersperger said.

Although they have a long road ahead of them in completing the museum, Hauersperger is confident that road will end some day. When it does, people will look back and say it was worth it, he said.

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How to support the downtown Seymour Museum

For information: Call 812-522-2941 or 812-530-9272.

People also may comment or send messages through the Seymour Museum Inc. Facebook page or email [email protected] with the subject Seymour Museum.

Tax-deductible donations made payable to Seymour Museum Inc. may be mailed to the museum at P.O. Box 1138, Seymour, IN 47274.