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Community Spotlight: Canal Winchester Historical Society

When you read the words driven, innovative, vibrant, fun and forward thinking, the next words that come to mind typically are not historical society. Yet, the Canal Winchester Area Historical Society is all of these things and much more. “People may think a historical society is stuck in the past but we’re not. We’re not just sitting here collecting dust, we are living right now and thinking toward the future,” Historical Society President Bruna Brundige explained. “We are open and want the community to feel at home. We don’t own our history. We are just stewards of it.”

It’s clear from chatting with Bruna that their slogan is more than just a slogan. “Together, we can remember the past and imagine the future” is a sort of rally cry to unite the community in support of fun local events and fundraisers that give strength to the organization’s very big goals.

Their main goal right now is the restoration and preservation of the O.P. Chaney Grain Elevator in Canal Winchester’s historic downtown. Once complete, this building will be transformed into a cultural heritage center for events, weddings, a winter farmers market, and other activities for the entire community to enjoy.

The four-story grain elevator was built in 1876 and is relatively rare in this part of the country, according to Bruna. She said most grain elevators of its age no longer exist and that newer styles are round and metal rather than wooden and square. Its spot on the National Register of Historic Places has informed the historical society’s work in following historic preservation standards to tell stories from the building’s past that are true to the area’s agrarian roots.

So far, they have focused on stabilization efforts including repairs to the building’s structure and sandstone foundation along with a new metal roof. Organization leaders have been busy fundraising and writing grants to cover the transformation from an unused grain elevator to a vibrant event venue that will make the entire community proud. One of their next steps will be to replace the deteriorating exterior siding with something new but historically accurate. However, the old siding won’t go to waste. They intend to add insulation and the old siding will be used on the inside, adding character, expanding usage options, and saving money in the long run. Insulated walls will allow the building to accommodate four-season use.

Since the total project cost is near seven million dollars, every opportunity to preserve, protect, and get bang for their buck will be important.

Bruna was recently elected to her second term as Historical Society President and credits the other trustees of this organization for much of the work that’s underway. “I was kind of handed the idea. Long before me, people recognized that it had to be preserved and so efforts went to just keeping it up. We would patch the roof here and fix the siding there but it got to the point that the stop gap measures no longer made sense. Why plug the leak when it will be worse the next time? It made no sense to just maintain it when it has so much potential.”

The facility has a large open area to accommodate gatherings like weddings and parties with plenty of room for a wedding ceremony and reception. A small catering kitchen, a bridal room, office space and restrooms are on the list of planned amenities. Those restrooms can even be made accessible to the public via exterior doors when there are events happening on the property.

However, their work is much more than the grain elevator project. That structure actually sits on the same property as the Victorian era Hocking Valley Railroad Depot and the historic Prentiss School which was relocated to this site in 1980. All of these facilities are owned and operated by the historical society.

Not to mention they operate the National Barber Museum in town. This museum is said to house thousands of barbershop items from all over the country. They will soon open a second museum in the same building. This one will tell the exciting story of the city’s past which began back in 1828 before the Ohio and Eerie Canal was built and when the town was still just called Winchester.  

Many residents and visitors may also be familiar with the numerous events they host throughout the year. A founder’s day celebration, ghost tours, and Christmas festivities top the list of popular events that are open to the public.

“We have such a rich history here that you don’t find everywhere and that history can inform our future. We want to imagine the future, to be forward thinking and to not singularly focus on the past. We have fun with what we do,” she exclaimed.

Want to help? The first step is by becoming a member. For as little as $10 a year, a historical society membership keeps members informed about upcoming events, the organization’s goals and ways to be involved. Another way to help is to make a donation by writing a check or with Paypal or credit/debit card on their website. She also encourages anyone interested in their work to remember this organization in their legacy planning. 

Our Canal Banking Center recently committed a $25,000 donation to help with this inspiring community project and we are excited to see others in the community help as well.

For more information, find them on Instagram as CW Area Historical Society and on Facebook as Canal Winchester Area Historical Society. Click here to watch a video by WOSU Public Media that helps to tell their story. 

Pictures and artist's renderings pictured below are courtesy of the Canal Winchester Historical Society.

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