ASHLAND – The historians have become the history makers.
The Saline Ford Historical Preservation Society, also known as the Ashland Historical Society, opens its first office this week.
The new office is located at 1438 Silver Street and will be open Thursday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. starting Aug. 30. The organization will also hold their monthly board meetings there.
The historical society has existed for several decades. It was founded in 1996 by a group of Ashland residents interested in local history who gathered at the invitation of Barbara Ziegenbein. They met at Ziegeinbein’s home for the first several years.
Over time, their meeting places changed. In the past few years, they have met at local churches or businesses.
But now the historical society is sharing their office space with HOME Real Estate, which is opening a new office in Ashland. The building has been remodeled since the former tenant moved out in June. The floor coverings were removed to reveal beautiful hardwood floors. The fireplace in the real estate office was cleaned up and walls throughout the building were painted.
“We will be ready for visitors on Thursday,” said Peg Lutton, vice president of the historical society.
Lutton said the historical society will use the office to catalogue and file historical information that has been stored in various locations throughout the community for decades. Items were also stored in the Ashland Chamber of Commerce building until Bittersweet Bakery moved in last year. After the bakery opened, those items ended up in society members’ garages.
“We’ve been collecting (the information) in our garages and basements for a long time,” Lutton said.
While they now have an office, there is still limited space for the organization to store items. The historical society would like local citizens or families whose roots are in Ashland to bring their items to the new office so they can be catalogued and the information filed.
However, the society is willing to take possession of an artifact if necessary, according to Martha “Marti” Fritzen, co-president of the historical society.
“One of the reasons we’re open here is so people can give us stuff before they decide to get rid of it,” Fritzen said.
The society will develop a policy to determine what items are worth keeping, however. There must be a local connection to the item, for example.
“Anything that pertains to things that happened here,” said Fritzen.
The historical society is looking not only for historical items, but also for the stories connected to them.
“Without the story, its just stuff,” said Fritzen.
For example, old telephone books are welcome. Fritzen said they will photocopy the telephone books to be used for future reference.
“That’s where we find out what business was where, who lived where,” she said. “They are an incredible research tool.”
Lutton said school yearbooks and graduation records are also important reference tools, especially any that are from before 1917, when a fire destroyed the local school and all its records.
Fritzen is also interested in things like playbills or programs from the Sears Opera House. The famous building now houses the Ashland Auto Supply store and is painted the signature NAPA Auto Parts blue color.
Memorabilia from local businesses is also in need, Fritzen said, because it helps them determine which businesses existed in Ashland and when. These items could include advertising memorabilia or something as simple as a receipt, she added.
The historical society has been working for the past several years on developing information about local businesses that existed throughout Ashland’s history, Lutton said.
The new office also gives the historical society a place to store hundreds of historical photographs donated by M.J. and Dennis Jeffrey of Photography by M.J. Dennis Jeffrey had scanned and painstakingly cleaned up the images on his computer to create the best prints possible. Eight are framed and the other 100 or so are mounted on foam board.
The Jeffreys also generously donated the digital images to the society.
“We have access to them so we can reproduce them,” said Lutton.
The historical society also recently acquired photographs from the local Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star organizations. Pomegranate Lodge No. 110 recently closed its doors in Ashland.
“These are photographs of fairly well-known people,” Fritzen said.
The historical society members also hope to use their new office to begin documenting oral histories told by local citizens.
“We think oral history is very important,” said Lutton.
The historical society is utilizing the front window of their new office to display historical items. Their first exhibit shows a wedding dress and shoes worn by Frankie Laughlin at her marriage to Roy Keller on Feb. 13, 1913. It is on loan from Willa Laughlin of rural Ashland. There is also a coffee drum with ties to the Laughlin family. The 25-pound drum was shipped in 1889 from Kansas City to Mary Ellen Loder Laughlin, wife of Oscar W. Laughlin and grandmother of Oscar Wayne Laughlin.
Lutton said they will change the window display every two to four weeks. The next one will be on the Churchill Sisters, who ran a dress shop in Ashland. They already have plans for a political display in November and a Christmas-themed exhibit in December.
The opportunity to open the office came about through a generous donation by Fritzen to the historical society in the name of her family. Fritzen’s ancestors, which include Dean, Keller, Coleman, and Richards families, were among the founders of Ashland. Her parents, Lyle and Lillian Bailey, also played a prominent role in the Ashland community. Lillian Bailey also wrote a column, “A Glimpse of the Past,” for The Ashland Gazette for many years. Fritzen and the historical society members continue to write for the column today. Local businessman Chuck Niemeyer has also donated filing cabinets and chairs for the new office.
Along with Fritzen Lutton, officers for the historical society are co-president Marilyn Rush, secretary Judy Hull, treasurer Marilyn Wright, board members, Jerry Froistad, Shirley Hemke, Pat Proctor and Jerry Lemon.
The historical society office will be a temporary home for the historical society. When the new Ashland Community Resource Center is built, it will house the local libray. The historical society will then relocate to the library building, which has a rich history itself as it was built with funds from the Carnegie family. The items that have been gathered will then have a lasting home to be displayed for the public and preserved for the future.
“Our plan is to gather and get ready to display items when we finally get the Carnegie building,” said Fritzen.