Two institutions are sharing an anniversary celebration this year to commemorate both their origins and the eras they spent in the same iconic Wauseon building.
It has been 130 years since the Fulton County Historical Museum first opened in a 20-foot by 30-feet log cabin at what is now the county fairgrounds on State Route 108. It has been 110 years since the first Wauseon Hospital began treating patients. What both have in common is their former operation in a familiar landmark at 229 Monroe St. in the city.
The sprawling structure is still home to the museum, but not for long. After 48 years at the present location, a new facility on State Route 108 will house the museum in 2017. It will be part of a $3 million complex planned to include Fulton County administrative offices and a tourism bureau.
With that transition in mind, the hospital’s longtime incarnation, the Fulton County Health Center, will commemorate the pasts of both institutions in the Monroe Street building with a donation to the museum’s future home.
Museum Director John Swearingen Jr. said the original museum was constructed two years after the Agricultural Society of Fulton County was founded to ensure the stories of the county’s early pioneers wouldn’t be lost. The museum and a rock garden were built by the aging pioneers’ children, using trees and stones contributed from their homesteads.
It opened as The Pioneer Association of Fulton County on Aug. 11, 1885, on the north end of what is now the fairgrounds. Exhibits displayed aspects of the pioneers’ lives from half a century before.
Unfortunately, the log cabin had deteriorated by 1907, so the museum was moved to the Fulton County Courthouse in Wauseon and renamed the Fulton County Historical Society. The collection of artifacts was stored in the courthouse, and shown by appointment only in what is now a second floor Common Pleas Court witness room.
The museum collection continued to grow while at the courthouse, “so big that they started storing artifacts up in the clock tower,” Swearingen said.
The clutter was relieved in 1969, when a prominent city resident, Ruth Campbell, donated her apartment complex on Monroe Street as a new museum location. At first, only smaller items were displayed there, since Campbell and several tenants remained at the site.
“As the people moved out, they converted their living space into museum space,” Swearingen said. Campbell stayed in her first floor apartment until her death in 1977. The current Civil War exhibit marks the spot.
Swearingen said the new museum location will be welcomed, since “now we’re in the same predicament as in 1969, where we’re overflowing (with artifacts).”
Wauseon Hospital occupied the building upon its opening on Nov. 1, 1905, with head nurse Mrs. Marvin Collins. A month prior, an issue of the newspaper, The Republican, had proclaimed, “If present plans carry, Wauseon will have a hospital before all the leaves fall off the trees.”
According to FCHC spokesperson Steve McCoy, the hospital moved 25 years later to the Detwiler Building on Shoop Avenue after becoming incorporated. The Monroe Street building would be transformed into Campbell’s apartments and private residence in the 1940s.
The FCHC donation will be included in a campaign drive to raise $1 million necessary to finish the interior of the new museum and build displays. At present, about $180,000 has been collected.
The Monroe Street site will be restored to represent its occupants from past eras. Using the museum’s operating expenses and materials, the rooms will depict scenes from the hospital, the apartments, the private home, and the building’s years as Wauseon High School.
“Every time you walk in a room, it will be 20 years later,” Swearingen said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.