Teachable Moments at the Buckeye Agricultural Museum and Education Center

Buckeye Agricultural Museum and Education Center helps visitors understand the past and present.

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Fred Hendricks
A concrete silo provides a unique entrance to the Buckeye Agricultural Museum.

The Buckeye Agricultural Museum and Education Center is dedicated to preserving agricultural history. An important part of that is educating the public about production agriculture.

When people patronize a farm market, for instance, they’re more aware that food is grown locally. “There is far less awareness of the food sources when shoppers buy through grocery stores,” says Paul Locher, the museum’s curatorial advisor and a member of its board of directors.

Helping visitors gain an appreciation of agriculture is a daunting challenge, but one the museum embraces. “With only 1.5 percent of the population engaged in farming, it creates a limitation on their ability to get the word out about food production,” says Ron Grosjean, museum board president. “We hope the museum will create interest among people to learn about the equipment utilized by farmers in the past.”

Located in Wooster, Ohio, the museum showcases Ohio agricultural history. Museum exhibits span 150 years, from 1800 to 1950. “The museum sees itself as ‘Ohio’s Official Agriculture Museum,'” Paul says.

As visitors view the museum’s thousands of artifacts, they get a sense of the transition of Ohio land from unspoiled wilderness to productive fields. “The museum presents the evolution of farm equipment along with evolving methods and technology through time,” Paul says. “And that changing agriculture scene fosters a more thorough understanding of its past for future generations.”

Showcasing evolving technology alongside local history

Visitors enter the museum through a poured concrete silo measuring 12 by 36 feet. With silos rapidly disappearing from the rural landscape, this one sets the tone for the visitor experience. Inside the building, the museum’s relics are professionally displayed with extensive signage telling the story of agriculture.

The first gallery features items used to open the woodlands from about 1800 up to the time of the American Civil War. Horse-drawn items on display include an original Conestoga wagon and a one-row corn cutter. Primitive pioneer-era hand tools and fragments of agricultural implements complete the display.

Starting with the post-Civil War years, the next gallery stretches to about 1940. This space contains a late 19th century New Champion threshing machine. Additional displays include ice harvesting equipment, clay field tile and poultry apparatus. Displays here also feature original cheese-making and fruit processing equipment used by Jerome Smucker, founder of J.M. Smucker Co. in nearby Orrville.

The final gallery showcases historic objects used by dairy farmers. A handsomely restored 1919 Huber Light Four Model R tractor dominates the space against an immense backdrop of agriculture signage. This area is a work in progress with space for additional items.

Even the museum’s front windows are put to work. “We replaced the windows with colorful, eye-catching, ag-oriented artwork,” Paul explains. Four of the window spaces showcase scenes of events from historic regional barns. Using photographs Paul took, each scene presents a different season of the year. Orrville artist Kristin Lorson was commissioned to create the paintings. “Many people drop by the museum just to look at and photograph her beautiful work,” Paul says.

Project marked by false starts before real progress begins

The concept of developing a state agricultural museum dates to the 1970s. Advancing the proposal were then Ohio Governor James Rhodes and other political leaders, Ohio farmers and the Ohio Historical Society. A site was selected close to the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC) campus near Wooster.

The proposal gained momentum in the years leading up to the American bicentennial in 1976. A proposal was made to construct a 110,000-square-foot facility on a 10-acre site in time for the bicentennial celebration. Those plans were delayed but groundbreaking festivities were held at the OARDC in 1982 with plans to open a museum two years later. With a downturn in the farm economy, however, funding evaporated and the project fizzled out.

About 10 years ago, the project came back to life with formation of a group named Friends of Wayne County Fair. The goal – preservation of agricultural history in Wayne and surrounding counties – was more modest. A 3.5-acre lot with existing buildings across a road from the fairgrounds was acquired. A $400,000 state grant was supplemented by local fundraising.

An eye on the past, an eye on the future

The museum is now housed in a 19,500-square-foot building that previously housed a farm equipment dealership. Recreational vehicle storage in part of the warehouse generates a modest revenue stream. Spacious overhead doors make it easy to move large exhibit pieces in and out.

Volunteers conducted extensive research and visited other antique farm machinery museums before plans were finalized. Volunteers and professional contractors renovated the initial museum galleries and office space. In addition to nicely finished office space, there is also a large meeting room used by 4-H clubs, farm organizations and civic groups.

“We currently have just over 8,000 square feet occupied by museum items,” Ron says. “Another 4,000 square feet will be developed as funds become available.”

In the future, the museum board plans a display of a fully functional commercial cider press. A 1923 Russell steam engine will provide the power for the press. Because the display will be located inside, the steam engine will be operated with air pressure rather than steam. FC

For more information: Buckeye Agricultural Museum and Education Center, 877 W. Old Lincolnway, Wooster, Ohio; phone (330) 845-2825; online at their website.

Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email Fred at fwhendricks@gmail.com

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