The old federal building at Third and Chestnut streets in Seymour has a long history of providing services to the public.
If one group of local residents has its way, that building, which has stood empty for nearly a decade, will again be returned to a place of importance in the community.
The project to turn the two-story limestone building from a derelict structure into a city museum has been underway for several years now, but some major improvements have occurred in the past year or so thanks to the efforts of the reinvigorated Seymour Museum Inc. board.
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“It’s getting there,” board President Lenny Hauersperger said of the building. “We’re focusing on one room at a time.”
The building has served many functions in the past 100 years.
It opened as a post office in March 1918 after three years of construction and many delays because of issues with getting materials, including the marble, for the interior areas.
In 1967, the building was converted into city hall. It later became home of the police department and shared space with city hall until city hall was moved across the street in 1995.
The building became vacant in 2007 when the police department moved to a new location a couple of blocks to the east.
Even before the police station moved out of the building, there had been talk of converting the federal building into a city museum.
In October 2005, then-Mayor Jim Bullard announced plans to incorporate the museum and put it at the police station once the building was empty. At the time, Bullard said talk of establishing a city museum had been talked about for years.
Progress languished for nearly eight years, but work recently has taken off.
One of the building’s front rooms, which served as the postmaster/mayor/police chief’s office, was renovated, and some historical items already are being displayed there.
Currently, the group is looking at renovating the room across the hall. Those renovations include repairing the ceiling and painting the walls. A project to replace all of the building’s windows is nearly complete.
“There’s a lot going on with the museum,” Hauersperger said.
Plans are underway to meet with an architect from Bloomington on Wednesday. The services of that person would be paid in part with a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
Hauersperger said the architect will help the board develop plans for some of the work for the building that has to be completed before it can serve the needs of the public. That includes installing an elevator to make the building handicap accessible and public restrooms.
“We did receive a donation to fix several of our sewer problems, bringing us closer to being up to code,” he said.
The immediate focus of the group, besides the addition of those necessities, is having an electrical contractor check over the building’s electrical components to bring them up to code.
Hauersperger is hopeful that the building will eventually become a hub of activity not just for Seymour’s past, but also for its future.
As part of that effort, the museum has acquired some of the former equipment and furniture from Bevers Family Pharmacy and Deli that closed earlier this year. The hope is to use it as a permanent interactive exhibit.
“My dream would be to have an ice cream social here using the Bevers display once a month,” Hauersperger said.
The Southern Indiana Model Railroad Association also has talked about setting up permanent displays in the building, and the museum’s board hopes the building eventually can house a telephone/telegraph display currently in storage at city hall.
There also are possible plans for a back portion of the building to be used for an Escape the Room experience designed to resemble turn-of-the-century trains similar to the ones robbed by the Reno Brothers after the Civil War. Escape the Room is a problem-solving experience requiring a person or group locked in rooms to use clues they find in the room to escape.
Hauersperger said he has discussed the idea with a local Boy Scout who is considering helping put it together as an Eagle Scout project.
The museum has had several visitors in recent months.
About 300 Seymour eighth-grade students toured the museum, and more than 300 people toured the building during Oktoberfest and looked at a display set up by the Southern Indiana Model Railroad Association.
The board also has several potential fundraising ideas, including history walks by two board members, Kevin Greene and Charlotte Sellers. Another one set for the spring is tentatively called “Seymour’s Got Talent” or Jackson County’s Got Talent.”
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How to support the downtown 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.
People also may comment or send messages through the Seymour Museum Inc. Facebook page or email [email protected] with the subject Seymour Museum.