The Society’s Mission
The Mission of the Clark County Historical Society is to collect, preserve and interpret resources which provide understanding and appreciation of Clark County’s heritage, and to relate the community’s past to the present and its future.
Clark County’s historical societies have written their own unique chapter in Ohio’s history. Their formation and subsequent activities predate almost all other historical institutions in the State, including the Ohio Historical Society.
While it did not leave extensive records of its activities, in 1870 the Mad River Valley Pioneer and Historical Association was formed. President, Reverend A.H. Bassett: “To rescue from oblivion interesting facts and important information would seem a duty which we owe to those who come after us. The present is indebted to the past, so the present should provide for the future. Today we have the benefit of yesterday’s observations and experiences. So should we preserve and carry forward the accumulated information for the benefit of tomorrow.” The Mad River Valley Pioneer and Historical Association was responsible for the first reenactment of the Battle of Piqua, in 1880 joining with the Clark County Veteran’s Memorial Association to present the “sham battle” in fields later to become George Rogers Clark Park.
Civil War veterans campaigned for a local museum as early as 1895, envisioning a permanent home for military memorabilia and a focus for Springfield’s 1901 centennial. In June, 1897, members of the G.A.R. held a joint meeting with the Board of Trade (later to become the Chamber of Commerce) at the Board of Trade Offices in Springfield’s new City Hall on Fountain Square. During the meeting, a committee was appointed to establish “…a society for the preservation of colonial, pioneer, Indian, war, and other relics as could be collected in Clark County, and curios of any kind that any person might wish to deposit therewith.” Over a century later, the Historical Society has found their home in the same building that hosted its birth.
Soon after its formation, the Society began collecting a wide range of historical material from war relics and farm machinery to manuscripts, rare books and photographs. In November, 1897, County Commissioners provided two rooms on the second floor of the County Court House for the collections. A flood of new artifacts during its first few years forced the Historical Society to search for larger headquarters several times. In October, 1900, the agency moved to a large room (called the Relic Room) in the Bushnell Building, which was open most Saturdays. The Society again outgrew its space in 1903 and County commissioners gave it the East County Building on the southeast corner of Limestone and Columbia Streets where the Juvenile Court Building now stands.
The Society moved again in 1925, this time to the second floor of Memorial Hall where the collections remained until 1985 when the museum doors were closed following rejection of a levy to renovate Memorial Hall. Eighty-seven years of exhibition came to an abrupt halt and the institution was forced to search for new quarters. As drastic as this seemed, the closing enabled the Society to cultivate new areas of support, and to strengthen ties with its traditional constituents. Wittenberg University offered a building to house a research library and offices. The County Commissioners increased the agency’s annual appropriation and permitted the continued storage of the collections in Memorial Hall.
The lack of proper facilities forced a major shift in the Society’s programs. The institution became a “museum without walls.” Special activities were sponsored all over the County that made local history more accessible. The traditional image of a historical society enclosed within hallowed museum halls was transformed to one of a professional institution vitally concerned with its public.
In his 1985 State of the Society address President Emerson Reck urged the development of a “…meaningful statement of mission, an institutional assessment in the light of that mission and a strategic plan guided by it.” All agreed that the Society must completely define the range of its services and responsibilities in the community and translate them into terms of its operations long before another museum facility was sought.
Evaluation began with membership and community surveys. An operational assessment was conducted by the Ohio Historical Society’s Local History Office. Museum consultants met with trustees to discuss fiduciary roles. Concurrently, a committee produced new mission and goals statements, re-evaluated constitution and bylaws, and made recommendations for unproved professional operating standards. New mission and goal statements served as guidelines to develop policies for the collections, trustees, staff, and finances.
The Board completed its first long-range plan in 1992. This contained goals to gain greater community outreach (via marketing and membership campaigns), to refine exhibition and collection management and ensure financial stability, particularly in the area of endowment. Finally, the plan outlined professional requirements for operation of a new museum facility.
The City Building has been a landmark of downtown Springfield since it opened in 1890. When it faced the threat of demolition a century later, the City and County Commissioners, the Historical Society, and the people of Clark County stepped in to save it. Although numerous private donors pitched in, it was the sales tax paid by the residents of the County that made it possible to convert the City Building into a first-class museum and center for the preservation of local history.
In 1997 the Historical Society was nearly bursting with the material for a fantastic museum. To help CCHS tell the story of Clark County through its artifacts, County Commissioners hired an exhibition design team who began work early in 1998. The designers met with CCHS staff, local historians, and educators to discuss how people learn, how exhibits communicate, and what tales the Historical Society’s artifacts had to tell. After examining and measuring artifacts and studying the Curator’s research, the designers submitted sketches, floor plans, and finally a scale-model of the Heritage Center galleries, which were constructed by an exhibit firm based out of Virginia.
A synchronicity of opportunities resulted, finally, in the opening of the Heritage Center of Clark County in March 2001. We have been here since, fulfilling our mission to protect, preserve, and interpret the community’s history through research, exhibits, programs, outreach, educational programming, and more!