This keeper of Middletown history has transformed from ‘a junk store to a museum’ for 2019

From left, Deb Morrison, Rick Lawson and Belinda Cox, three Middletown Historical Society board members, helped renovate the Canal Museum that’s open from 2-4 p.m. every Sunday. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
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From left, Deb Morrison, Rick Lawson and Belinda Cox, three Middletown Historical Society board members, helped renovate the Canal Museum that’s open from 2-4 p.m. every Sunday. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

The Middletown Historical Society Canal Museum, thanks to the efforts of volunteers and funded through grants and donations, transformed from resembling “a junk store to a museum,” said Belinda Cox, a board member.

For the last several months, several board members painted the inside of the canal — its first painting since it opened in 1982 — reorganized hundreds of pieces of Middletown history, added informational signs to the artifacts, cleaned up the landscaping and rededicated the Miami Erie Canal Historical Marker that had been lost since it was knocked over in an auto accident in 1997 then stored in the city garage.

The materials for the renovations were purchased through a $1,500 grant from the W.E. Smith Family Foundation.

The Canal Museum, erected in 1982 as a replica of the lock tender’s house, is located on the former site of the Miami-Erie Canal and the hydraulic canal on the outskirts of Smith Park.

Ohio’s canal system was most effective between 1827 and 1850 before the introduction of the railroads. The 1913 Flood destroyed much of the canal. Sixteen years later, a parade in the city was held to signify the closing of the canal through Middletown and the water was drained from the canal and the canal bed was filled in, paved and dedicated in 1938 as Verity Parkway.

Over the years, as more items were donated and added to the museum, the inside of the building became cluttered. It was time for a cleaning, according to the board.

“You couldn’t tell it was a museum,” said Deb Morrison, a board member.

Another board member, Rick Lawson, said the inside reminded some of a Cracker Barrel restaurant and visitors even asked about purchasing items off the walls.

Now that the renovation of the first floor is complete, board members are concentrating on the second floor. They have organized that level so that it resembles a living space. There are reminders of Middletown’s connection to the tobacco industry, a large banner signifying Middletown becoming an All-American City, and a portrait of Susan Perkins, who was named Miss America in 1978.

“This is our history and something we don’t want to lose,” Cox said.

Lawson said when middle school children tour the museum, they’re fascinated by the city’s history that they say isn’t taught in the local school district.

“They will say, ‘This is history in my back yard,’” Lawson said.

The museum also features extensive collections of drawings from Herbert Fall and Jack Howard, two well-known local artists.

The museum is open from 2-4 p.m. every Sunday from the first Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October. Last year, about 500 people visited the museum that’s free and open to the public.

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