New Heritage Center will encompass all of the county
By STEPH TAHTINEN
Mt. Pleasant News
The Howard and Helen Hills Henry County Heritage Center opened to the public for the first time on Sunday afternoon, providing the public a chance to see Henry County’s newest museum.
“People have wanted to get in here,” Martha Hayes, president of the Henry County Heritage Trust, as she watched people mill around looking at the displays arranged in the two open classrooms of the old Saunders School in Mt. Pleasant.
Saunders School, located at the intersection of North White and West Madison streets in Mt. Pleasant, taught children in Mt. Pleasant from February 1917 to 1998. After the school closed, the property was purchased by the City of Mt. Pleasant in 1999, and it eventually came to the Henry County Heritage Trust about seven years ago.
The Henry County Heritage Trust planned to use the building to establish a museum to cover all of Henry County.
“This is not a Mt. Pleasant museum, this is a Henry County museum,” said Hayes.
Henry County Heritage Trust member Don Young explained that although the smaller towns throughout the county have their own museums, they do not encompass the entire county.
“Those museums are fine, they do a great job, but they kind of miss the rest of the county,” said Young.
After acquiring the former school building, there was a lot of work that needed to be done, including a new roof, new windows, removing asbestos from the basement, dealing with water in the basement, installing lights, painting and beginning to put in heat and air conditioning.
“We’ve had many things to take care of,” said Young. “Of course, if you’re going to have museum, you need some air conditioning to preserve the artifacts.”
Hayes explained that they were waiting for the building to have heat before it was opened to the public, which was first operational in one of the old classrooms on Nov. 1.
Although there were only two rooms completed for viewing on Sunday afternoon, Hayes said that there are nine rooms total and the plan is to have a different display in each room.
“Our goal is to have a room on veterans, a room on education, a room on agriculture, a room on industry,” explained Hayes. “We’ll do a room when we have the money.”
For now, the heritage center has a small sampling of the artifacts the Henry County Heritage Trust owns. Among these is a display of items belonging to James Van Allen that will one day be moved to the Van Allen House, which has been moved to the Saunders School property.
The Henry County Heritage Trust also used Sunday afternoon as an opportunity to thank those who had donated to either the heritage center or the Van Allen House. Those who had donated $1,000 or more were awarded with charter member certificates in a small ceremony during the open house.
“We thank all these people who have helped so much,” said Hayes.
Of special note were Jared Hills of Cedar Rapids and his brother, Kent Hills of Lanham, Md., former students at Saunders School who had made a sizeable donation to the heritage center.
“I think it’s a great thing you’ve done,” Hills said as he accepted his certificate from Hayes.
Jared and Kent Hills’ grandmother, Eva Allen Hills, was principal of Saunders School from 1934 to 1946, and she also taught fourth grade.
The heritage center is named after Jared and Kent’s parents.