Attica group preserves area history for future

PHOTO BY JACOB GURNEY Jan Detrich (left) and Shirley Williams show off some items of the Attica Historical Society April 14.

ATTICA — The Attica Area Historical Society has been around for nearly 30 years and members look forward to continuing to preserve history, even though the future of their space is in question.

Rhonda J. Martin said the purpose of the group is simply to preserve the history of Attica and the surrounding area.

Members said about eight volunteers do whatever is needed at their facility, the History Room at Seneca East Public Library, 14 N. Main St.

“Attica has been such a unique town,” Jan Detrich said. “We’re right here at the crossroads of Ohio with SR 4 and US 224. People go through here.”

“Just like in baseball with ‘for the love of the game.’ It is for the love of history to me. I like history,” she added.

Susie Shade said every place has a history.

“If you don’t put it somewhere, nobody is going to know it,” she said.

Members said the number of volunteer hours can’t be put onto paper.

“There’s always something big or small going,” Detrich said.

The society was founded in 1989 and Virginia Roth said the group first met in people’s homes.

“We met in homes originally and the items were stored in the dentist office …,” Roth said. “Some of the society’s items were donated and some of it has been bought at auction.”

Shirley Williams said she, Roth and their husbands once went to Crestline to an auction for a showcase.

“It was advertised as being from Attica and on the back it was written, ‘From Attica Drug Store,'” she said.

Detrich said Roth has “been here since the beginning” and she remembers a lot about Attica.

“If it wasn’t for Virginia and others like her, we wouldn’t have all this,” Detrich said.

Shade said fundraisers have included garage sales and selling alumnibooks, dishcloths and replica buildings of Omar Chapel and the old Grandstand at Attica Independent Fairgrounds. Roth added that at one point they scheduled tours of area homes decorated for Christmas.

“All of our funding comes from fundraisers or sometimes we get donations, but we have no income from anywhere besides that,” Shade said.

Roth said the society’s big project last year was a program during the Memorial Day Service honoring Clara Edith (Work) Ayres, a nurse from Attica who was killed in WWI.

“That was the big project we had,” Roth said. “We went all out.”

May 20, 1917, Ayres and nurse Helen Wood were killed aboard the USS Mongolia after a deck gun exploded during a practice drill and shell fragments shot across the deck. Ayres was recognized by Congress as the first female killed in the line of duty in WWI.

Detrich said a Toledo-area woman, Margorie Waterfeld, helped with the story of the nurse.

“Her father had lived here when he was born and the house is just down the street…,” she said. “We have people (connected to Attica) from all over.”

Williams said the Attica Historical Society has 2,034 documented inventory pieces and Shade said they have many more undocumented pieces.

Williams said the society, which has been at its current location since 1998, can remain there until December, unless the Seneca East Public Library Board of Trustees chooses to renew its lease.

“They say this library needs (this room) for storage and to expand the children’s library. … That’s what we were told and what was explained to us,” Williams said.

Detrich said the society needs to have a controlled climate.

“We can’t just put it somewhere that is going to be extremely cold or extremely hot all the time,” Shade added.

“History is important,” Williams said. “There is already a children’s library and they have room downstairs (for storage).”

She said minutes from an Oct. 12, 1998, Seneca East Public Library Board meeting state trustee Bryce Weiker said the historical society should consider its tenure in the building to be that of 99 years. Williams said no vote on Weiker’s statement was taken, but the trustees gave a consensus opinion.

“It was a consensus that everybody agreed at the meeting. That is the crux of the issue currently,” she said.

Seneca East Public Library Board of Trustees President Drew Mennel said renewal of the historical society’s lease is under discussion.

“It is in a portion of the library that could be used as library (space),” he said. “Right now, it is a segregated part and is strictly used by the historical society.”

Mennel said the board has discussed a variety of uses for the space, but is trying to figure out the best option for everybody. He said there has been interesting discussion and there could be a compromise.

Mennel said there might be a decision regarding the lease at the next board meeting, schedule for 7:30 p.m. May 9.

Messages left with Board Vice President Lori Bumb and trustee Kim Ohl were not returned.

Seneca East Public Library Director Barbara Bayer said the library needs the room to expand and the space could be used for children’s storytime.

“While the society is only open once a month, the children’s story time would use the room every week,” she said.

Bayer said some buildings may be going up for sale, so there could be another opportunity for the historical society. She said she thinks the society could expand as well because, as donations have accumulated, it has outgrown the History Room.

“We do not want them to fold or disband, definitely not,” she said.

Bayer said it is going to be a “tough decision.” She said Attica Area Historical Society is a worthwhile organization and the library would continue to support it.

“There are a lot of treasures back there that serve a purpose,” she said. “We have always supported them. We wish them the best and will continue to do whatever we can to support them in the future.”

While the library could use that room, she said the board might not do anything regarding the lease.

Historical society members said options are slim for places to go and while sites are being investigated, nothing is definite. Roth said she “hates the thought of moving.”

Detrich said the society needs support from the community and Roth said “it would be great” if the lease issue could get resolved.

“This is the only collection of (local history) in the area, probably the only collection period,” Martin said. “If we don’t have a home for it, we are going to have to disperse with it and it will never be again.”

Detrich said when Seneca East third-graders visit the society, learn the history and see historical items such as slates or lunchboxes, the experience sparks interest in the students.

“If we don’t have this collection, for the children to see, how are they gonna know anything about Attica?” Williams questioned.

She said the group is trying to preserve Attica’s history for future generations.

“People don’t realize what we got. … They need to come in,” Williams said.

Attica Historical Society is open 6-8 p.m. the first Thursday of every month April through November and by appointment year-round. Martin said contact information is on the Seneca East Public Library website and people can call anytime and a volunteer will meet them.

The society meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of every other month in the History Room of the Seneca East Public Library.

Anyone interested in donating to or joining the Attica Historical Society should call Roth at (419) 426-6831.

Open house set

Attica Area Historical Society is to have an open house 2-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

People interested in Attica history may see memorabilia, most of which has been donated.