Mansion House Museum celebrates 50 years
Updated 5:05 am, Tuesday, July 18, 2017
CENTERVILLE, Ind. (AP) — For nearly 180 years, the Mansion House has sat along the National Road in Centerville, welcoming visitors of all kinds.
The historic building, constructed in 1840, has been a home, a hotel and likely a boarding house before finally becoming a museum when its final private owner, Lola Beckett, sold the property to the Wayne County Historical Society for $1 in 1967.
Now owned by the nonprofit Historic Centerville Inc., the Mansion House is celebrating 50 years as a museum this year.
The tale of how the site became a museum actually begins in Richmond in the 1950s.
Beckett was living on a farm north of the city when she was forced to sell her home to make way for the construction of Interstate 70, according to Carolyn Lafever of Historic Centerville. The highway's interchange with Williamsburg Pike is the site of Beckett's old farm.
She found a new home when she purchased the Mansion House and moved to Centerville in 1959.
As she grew older and could no longer take care of the home, Beckett sold the Mansion House and her extensive collection of antiques to the Wayne County Historical Society.
Beckett continued to live at the house and act as the curator for the museum until health problems forced her to move to a nursing home. She died in 1972.
"She was a very generous lady," Lafever said. "She stayed here, and she acted as the guide for a couple of years until she wasn't able.
"She had a great heart for wanting to share this with Centerville and Wayne County. That was her goal."
Beckett's antique collection was scattered, with some of it ending up at the Wayne County Historical Museum, Levi Coffin House and Wilbur Wright Birthplace, according to Lafever. Other pieces were sold at auction.
"She had a house full of wonderful antiques that were appropriate to the age of this house," Lafever said. "All those antiques were taken away, so we have almost nothing of the great collection. We have pictures of it. That's all we have."
Today, the home-turned-museum is filled with other items that have been collected since Historic Centerville took over operation of the site in 1975. Rooms are used as exhibits to give visitors a glimpse into what life was like in Wayne County in the mid-to-late 1800s.
"These have been collected from various sources," Lafever said. "We've been trying to figure where some of this stuff came from because we have records but they're not very explicit, so sometimes you really have to go back and try to figure out what they're talking about."
The volunteers of Historic Centerville work hard to keep up with the preservation needs of the property.
"In the past two years, we've had the outside worked on and straightened up, and then the inside this year from grants that helped us do that," Lafever said.
"While those things may not be obvious to the person who comes and looks, that's an ongoing thing: How do you keep this stable?"
The group receives funding from memberships, grants, donations and fundraisers such as its annual Garden and Home Tour, which will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
The Mansion House is open to visitors 1-5 p.m. on Saturdays during the summer. It's also available for rent for parties or other gatherings.
"We want this house used in an appropriate way," Lafever said. "We don't make a lot of money. We are adequate in our budget right now, but if it were not for gifts and grants and memberships, there isn't any other place to get money."
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