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Monday, January 4, 2021

Campbell County Historical Society Launches Capital Campaign for New Home

The Campbell County Historical Society has outgrown its space in the old county courthouse in Alexandria. They have an opportunity for new space but need donors to help.
 


by Robin Gee


The Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society has launched a major capital campaign with a goal to raise almost $700,000 for a new building that would house the society’s burgeoning collection and provide space for more museum exhibits, research rooms, meeting and classrooms, community gathering spaces and more.

They have their eye on a property, and the owners are aware of the society’s interest. Currently a small single-story building sits on about 10 acres with a small lake in Silver Grove, near the intersection of Routes 8 and 1998. For many years it was the Knights of Columbus Lodge, then a pay fishing lake and more recently the Duck Creek Country Club bar.

The plan for the site would be to replace the existing structure with a larger single-story metal building that would give the society space to expand its collection, add to its museum exhibits and provide meeting, education and research space. The grounds surrounding would offer room for growth, additional buildings and space for community events.

The organization’s board of directors took its first step in December, reaching out to area businesses and leaders to make the important ask.

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Bursting at the seams


Simply, the society has amassed a large and valuable collection of local history resources but no longer has space to display it, explained Steve Battistone, president of the society’s board of directors.

In fact, some donations are housed offsite because there is no room, other material are being held by donors until space can be found. With this opportunity, the society can expand its reach and visibility, and move to the next level of community access, outreach and education, he explained. 

The Campbell County Historical Society holds a rich treasure trove of material. Whether you are researching your family, doing a report on historical events, checking out who built and owned your home, researching the founding of your company or just browsing historical information to get to know your county and Kentucky a little bit better, it’s all there.

Well, most of it is there. The society owns thousands of records but doesn’t have space for it all. Tucked away on the second floor of the old Campbell County Courthouse, at 8352 Main Street in Alexandria, every inch of the society’s space is jam packed. Yet, there’s so much that many important items in the collection have had to be stored offsite. There simply isn’t enough room.

Built in 1840, the building is lovely with its stately white columns, but it’s not practical for a museum, library and research space. The space is open to the public, welcoming visitors year-round, yet to get there one must climb a narrow 22-step staircase. Volunteer staff have tried to help by setting out a chair on a landing 16 steps up for winded visitors. 

There’s no room in the building for an elevator, and the society shares only four parking spaces with the county conservation district, the downstairs tenant. The collection is housed in a series of small dark rooms. In fact, the society’s library is in a room that once served as the jail. 


The historical society space is crammed with information and materials including a collection of 14,000 veteran records from throughout Campbell County.

What they have and why it’s important


The two most common visitors to the society’s collection are people researching their families and people interested in finding out more about a home they’ve purchased, said Battistone. Yet the collections also tell the stories of area businesses, development, politics, crime and culture.

The organization was formed in 1990 by two brothers, Ken and Jim Reis and has grown to include 300 members from across the country. Over these years, the society has amassed a large collection of documents and materials, preserving history for generations.

Battistone listed out some of the many artifacts and records held by the organization. Among these are:
  • More than 6,000 family histories, including church records with marriages and baptisms
  • Almost 14,000 records of veterans from Campbell County
  • Information on 100 cemeteries in the county
  • More than 12,000 photographs taken throughout the county
  • Thousands of county maps, including plats, aerials and road maps
  • Collections of documents from the Protestant Orphan Home and Holly Hill
  • Documents from the estate of General James Taylor
  • A collection of local high school year books and records of all county schools, including one-room school houses
  • The complete history and minute books from the Fort Thomas Women’s Club
Among the more unusual artifacts are a large collection of medical instruments and related items from Speers Hospital and the valise that carried the severed head of Pearl Bryan in 1896.

Battistone noted many local people whose accomplishments may not be well-known but whose stories are well preserved in the society’s collections. He noted Jack Dawn, for example, who was born in Gubser Mill and grew up to be a Hollywood makeup artist who supervised much of the makeup for the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz."

He also told the story of Dan Gray. A business and commercial photographer, now in his 90s, who has donated 500,000 negatives from throughout his career photographing businesses and commerce in our area.

The society has been gifted a complete log cabin once belonging to Revolutionary War Major David Leitch in 1790, but there is nowhere on the grounds to put it. "Someone gifted us an entire Victorian bedroom suite, but, again there is no place to put it," he said.

Plans to expand and deepen community ties

Aerial view of property available that could be a site for a new Campbell County Historical and Genealogical building and grounds.

Battistone said there is so much more the society would like to do if it had the space to expand it’s exhibits and services. It’s a big county, and there are many directions to grow, he said.

"We cover the northern part of the county, which is very urban with Newport, Dayton, Bellevue and Fort Thomas. The southern part of the county is very rural in some areas, but all of the county is important to us. We want to grow our agricultural exhibit; we have the potential to show how agriculture has changed over the years."



The society has plans in place to expand their exhibits, but they envision much more.

"We want to enhance our collections, build our core volume, but we want to be more, to be a center for the community," he said. “We plan to develop things like walking trails on the property, places for folks to gather."

The list is long of areas in which the society could expand its exhibits, research and materials. Battistone shared some ideas such features on the Bellevue and Dayton beaches, the Weidemann property, the Beverly Hills Supper Club, the old airport, the local print and wine industries.

Future plans would include out buildings for a possible general store and soda fountain, an area set up as a traditional mainstreet, a gift shop—and there would be a spot for the 1790 cabin. The organization hopes it will be a destination for school field trips, senior groups, and those learning traditional skills or exploring subjects in architecture and preservation.

Corporate sponsorship and donors needed

18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. 

Battistone said the society hopes to find a few civic-minded corporate or private donors who would become the backbone of the fundraising efforts. The society is offering a package of perks for donors to its corporate campaign as well as several opportunities for naming rights.

Opportunities for smaller donations are, of course, abundant and the society has many ideas on smaller fundraising efforts such as selling bricks or benches on the property.

Battistone pointed to the importance of preserving and mining history for knowledge and guidance in understanding society today. He noted, too, that more and more people are exploring their roots and the ties between the past, the present and the future.

A brochure developed by the society and aimed at potential donors notes that a 2004 study by the University of Michigan found that "cultural tourism is growing and that cultural tourists spend more, stay longer and tend to stay at hotels more than do 'general tourists.'" The brochure noted that tourism visitors spent $8 billion in Kentucky in 2019.

Said Battistone, "Our hope is that this will be a place for older folks to come and reminisce, and more importantly, to share history with the younger generation. It will be a place where grandparents and grandchildren can get together, passing stories from generation to generation."

For more on the corporate sponsorship, naming rights or other ways to donate or support the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society or if you’d like to visit, call 859-635-6407 or email campbellhgs@gmail.com

A concept rendering of a proposed new building for the Campbell County Historical Society (from the society's donor brochure).

 


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