Some area historical museums have trouble attracing visitors

2013-08-03T21:15:00Z 2013-08-04T21:59:05Z Some area historical museums have trouble attracing visitorsChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
August 03, 2013 9:15 pm  • 

At 13 W. 73rd Ave. in Merrillville sits a building nearly 150 years old that started off as a school and was once used as Merrillville's Town Hall.

The road in front of the facility is well traveled, but there might be many residents who don't realize the building currently serves as the Merrillville-Ross Township Historical Society museum.

The museum offers free admission, and is open 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays from May to October, but it struggles at times to attract visitors.

Historical society member Dorinda Gregor was the volunteer staff member available at the museum on a recent Sunday to greet and assist visitors.

No one came.

Although the museum traffic might be hit or miss, some events have filled the building, historical society member Alice Smedstad said. Among them was a July 28 presentation about the Battle of the Bulge, she said.

Smedstad thinks people are interested in local history, but a lack of awareness about  area museums has contributed to low attendance.

Merrillville's museum features several permanent exhibits, including those that focus education and agriculture.

Smedstad said the historical society tries "to keep it fresh" in the facility with new items, which the museum marks with a star.

Crown Point's jewel

The Lake County Historical Museum, open from 1 to 4 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from May to October, averages about 1,200 visitors each year, museum director Bruce Woods said.

The museum is in the old courthouse on Crown Point's square, which gives it an advantage over standalone museums like Merrillville's, Woods said.

The courthouse has several businesses that attract visitors. While at those establishments, they might see the sign to the museum and decide to check it out.

Although the Lake County Historical Museum might bring in more visitors than standalone museums, Woods would like more traffic through his facility.

He said most of the museum's visitors are from out of town or out of state.

Woods thinks there is a mindset among some local residents that there might not be exciting exhibits at local museums, and they would have to travel away from the area to find something of interest.

Many exhibits in the museum are about Crown Point's history, but it also features items of significance from throughout Lake County, Woods said.

A donation of $1 for adults and $.50 for children is asked when visiting the museum.

Telling stories in Valpo

Not all local historical museums are hurting for visitors.

The Porter County Museum of History has had success growing its attendance, museum director Kevin Pazour said.

He said the museum, located at 153 Franklin St. in Valparaiso, has put an emphasis on rejuvenating permanent exhibits, rotating exhibits and bringing in new items.

The museum's Central Stories Project, which opened this year, attracted about 400 people to its grand opening, Pazour said.

It focused on Valparaiso's historic downtown area. Pazour said he wants to continue the project and have a different focus area each year.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Thursdays, it is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

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