Delivered at the 2014 Annual Meeting
We’ve come to expect a recital of achievements in this annual report, and I hope to not disappoint. In calendar 2013 the Benninghofen House welcomed over 3,000 visitors for tours, plus a deluge of people during December’s German Village Christmas Walk. Last year the Randall Research Center served nearly 300 patrons. This year, with more than a month yet to go, we are on a pace to surpass that.
Our Speakers Bureau, built around heroic efforts of our Executive Director, reached over 1500 people in 2013 and this year even more. We have at least 300 dues-paying members. Our volunteers gave well over 2,000 hours of service time, valued at more than $50,000. We hosted meetings of German Village, the 1913 Flood Legacy Committee, Historic Hamilton, Museums and Historic Sites of Greater Cincinnati, Butler County History Collaborative, Heritage Hall Museum, MetroParks of Butler County, the Robert McCloskey Centennial Committee, and Hamilton’s Vision 20/20.
More than 75 people or organizations donated records and artifacts of Butler County industry and business, as well as clothing, photographs, postal cards, sheet music, recordings, family letters, correspondence, items from schools, churches, charitable organizations, and more. We particularly solicit items about Butler County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an era when the industrial power of the Miami Valley was both nationally and internationally prominent. In that period an elaborate lifestyle emerged in Butler County cities and prosperity rose in the countryside, forming the landscapes and cityscapes we inhabit today.
We’re grateful for grants from the Smith Family Charitable Trust. We love the Master Gardeners who take care of our gardens and grounds. We opened new exhibits this year on the history of Butler County theaters, 19th c. clothing, and the history of Mosler Safe Company. We’re at work on exhibits showcasing Beckett Paper Company, and historic wedding dresses. We’re planning new exhibit space for the 1913 Flood and industrial Hamilton. We sponsored book signings for local authors, public programs on historical figures, and paranormal investigations. We built a new webpage and a popular FaceBook presence, went to the Fair, spoke at Miami Hamilton Downtown, hosted driving tours, supported other museums, libraries and community organizations, and generally had a good ‘ole time.
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On Friday, June 27, at precisely 9:00 a.m., I joined 1,000 others at RiversEdge to watch the Champion Paper Company smokestack, which had stood over Hamilton for 113 years, be demolished in 20 seconds. Why were we there? Because an icon of the past was going away, in a quick, tidy and efficient manner, forever changing Butler County’s skyline. What were we thinking about? Some doubtless came to marvel at the explosion and the impressive rubble. It may have occurred to others that this stack marked the site of one of the city’s world leaders in papermaking innovation, and that another of the city’s world leaders, Beckett Paper and its heirs, had recently ceased operation here. Of course it marked an ending. It also marked a beginning, for the City owns the former Champion site and there is an elaborate planning process under way to assure its future as part of community revitalization.
Some of us may have considered how visible icons of the past reinforce community identity by reminding us of stories about the people who created and worked in such places. They invested in this community and built its neighborhoods. They brought migrants from Appalachia and elsewhere in great numbers. They helped rebuild the Valley after the 1913 flood. They created technological and business innovation and an economic vitality that elevated downtown architecture and residential neighborhoods. And they left behind memorable candidates for historic preservation, adaptive reuse and artistic appreciation.
Hamilton, Middletown, Oxford, and Butler County are busy right now rebuilding themselves for the mid-21st century. Effective community rehabilitation requires innovation on many civic and economic fronts, and it needs investment in museums, archives, local history research centers and historical societies, because they are the stewards of the things, the records, and the stories that teach us where we came from and why we live as we do. These cultural centers are crucial to the active life-long learning that underwrites a healthy community.
Here’s an example. One hundred years ago last year the Great Miami River washed away our forbearers. But they responded by rescuing fellow survivors, then building the Miami Conservancy District to protect their successors, that is, us. Theirs was a remarkably future-oriented achievement, and this county and city remembered it last year. Indeed, across the entire Miami Valley in 2013 there was an outpouring of mayors and city officials, heads of civic organizations, academics, librarians, school leaders, artists, film-makers, photographers, architects, musicians, performers, actors, city workers on vacation time, retirees, students, church leaders, historians, architects, post card collectors, police, fire department professionals, business leaders and ordinary citizens of all sorts reflecting on the past because what happened then still matters now.
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We leave behind the records of our lives in the things, photographs, correspondence, keepsakes and memories we make and pass on. It’s the responsibility of public history organizations to make sense of this by weaving our community’s story from the many individual stories of the past. I think the Butler County Historical Society is meeting this responsibility.
We thank you for visiting us in the German Village, for active participation in our programs, for requesting our services, and for the time, talent, wisdom, dedication and welcome advice we receive from you every day. We greatly appreciate the annual gifts that members provide. We also ask you to understand that we receive no government support, have no admission charges, and maintain low membership fees, and therefore more than 70% of our annual operating fund comes from endowment.
Recently we established a Legacy Society whose members choose to make a lasting commitment to our work through planned giving and bequests. You can designate that a portion of your estate be gifted to endowment in a will, a trust agreement, or by other means, and we hope you will think seriously about becoming a permanent steward of our heritage.
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Speaking of his own community, the southern writer William Faulkner once said, “Around here, the past is not dead. It’s not even the past.” In nearly fifty years of historical work I’ve learned that we all carry the past with us, in our heads, and in our hearts. The Butler County Historical Society recognizes and celebrates this fact, and helps translate our unique stories into historical understanding with community value. We are glad to have you as colleagues in this effort.