Although it’s one of the region’s historical societies fortunate to remain open through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Museum of Fulton County still felt the punch.
Walk-in visitors during 2020 totaled 681, down from 2,155 the previous year. The number of people who participated in the museum’s programming offerings slid even more precipitously, dropping to 2,262, from 15,124 in 2019. Those figures don’t include the loss of business the museum experienced during a two-month shutdown at the onset of the pandemic.
If not for the generosity of the museum’s members and the teamwork of its board of trustees, staff, and volunteers over the past year, COVID-19 might have impacted the facility much even more severely, said Scott Lonsdale, Museum of Fulton County facilities operation manager.
“Our donors were fantastic. It was our donors who made sure we were financially well-off and ended the year in the black,” he said. “We are significantly down, but that’s the trend everywhere.”
The museum was helped tremendously by an approximately $10,000 grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funds were used to transform the facility into a safe environment for guests and staff members, and to produce an increased online presence. That project, which focused on social media sites where the museum has discovered its best online audience, was assisted by Americorps, a voluntary civil society program through the Ohio History Service Corps.
“Especially during the shutdown it was quite stressful… talking with the board and trying to feel our way through it,” Lonsdale said. “Once we returned in June…we felt like we got our footing and had an action plan for how to deal.”
Prior to reopening its location at 8848 State Route 108 in Wauseon on June 10, online projects were created to keep the public involved. They included The Great Fulton County Road Rally, a scavenger hunt attracting 89 participants that involved solving puzzles; a “selfie” project that encouraged people to take photos at local sites with historical significance; a driving tour of Fulton County loaded with historical knowledge of the area; and a program on the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, which showed similarities to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Live, socially-distanced events included a sold-out outdoor version of the museum’s annual Haunted History Tour that attracted 178 participants, and a Hobo Festival at the Wauseon Depot.
The museum also held a successful virtual rendition of its annual fundraising gala, which offered a carryout dinner and online programming. And a virtual afternoon tea, arranged to replace the annual live events, sold 29 kits.
“The best part about the tea is, it was a brand-new audience, a completely different audience. It was really cool to see that we were able to reach out and get people that may not have used our services before,” Lonsdale said.
Once the museum reopened June 10 last year, it debuted a quilt exhibit and “Women Working For Change,” a new exhibit which opened last August and runs to this April 18.
And now that the pandemic’s grip has somewhat eased, the museum will begin to reestablish some live events, including an outdoor tea in May, although with COVID-19 precautions.
Unfortunately, the facility remains uneasy about a live gala this year, so it will remain online. Tickets must be purchased for the 1942-themed event, which offers a pick-up dinner and a virtual entertainment including a World War II USO canteen setting; songs from the era sung by the Wauseon High School choir and the musical group Nostalgia; vignettes showcasing county venues that supported the war effort; and genuine news clips from the period.
Food pick-up will be from 4-5 p.m.; the program begins at 6 p.m. Instructions to participate are forthcoming.
As 2021 progresses, the Museum of Fulton County will continue the daily process of disinfecting every touchable surface between visits, providing a dozen hand sanitizer stations, and following the state’s coronavirus guidelines.
“We came through the pandemic well because our board has managed it very well,” Lonsdale said.“As we continue to plan our events and move forward, social distancing and masks, its all still in the plans. People have been extraordinarily respectful, and have been wearing their masks as asked.”
John Swearingen Jr., the museum’s director, said due to the generosity of donors and support from the facility’s board of trustees the facility ended 2020 in the black. “If it weren’t for (donors) and our teamwork here, we would have probably been completely closed the whole time, he said. “Giving was just incredible. Our members really came through.”
And business has begun to pick up over the past week. Three private parties have been booked, and Swearingen is confident more are on the way. “I think we’re doing good,” he said.
Lonsdale believes some sense of normalcy will return to the Museum of Fulton County by year’s end.
“I honestly anticipate that we will see pent-up demand. We’ll see people come through simply because they can again,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.