Pharos-Tribune

February 21, 2014

Growth spurt: Canal center headed for updates

Canal museum pursuing $80K in updates

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune
Pharos-Tribune

---- — DELPHI — Visitors of the Wabash and Erie Canal Center will see a lot of changes to the Interpretive Museum in the coming months.

The Wabash and Erie Canal Center, 1030 N. Washington St. in Delphi, has seen tens of thousands visitors since it opened in 2004. The museum, which is about 3,500 square feet, has 12 galleries and 60 exhibits. The museum provides interactive learning opportunities while teaching visitors about the canal era of the mid-1800s.

To maintain the quality of the museum, the Wabash and Erie Canal Association — volunteers who help maintain the park — are running a fundraising campaign of $80,000 to prepare for the next 10 years.

The Canal Society of Indiana donated $10,000 and a business in Delphi has already sponsored two exhibits.

Money raised will be used to update physical conditions of the exhibits, add more interactive opportunities and create two new galleries.

Dan McCain, president of the canal association, hopes the changes are completed this year. The goal of the next phase of changes is to enhance the experience of the museum.

“It’s great when you see the looks on the kids’ faces,” McCain said. “This really is an interpretive center, not a traditional museum. We want visitors to interact.”

The creative exhibits at the museum grew from the mind of Len Mysliwiec of Lifespace Design in Fort Wayne. Mysliwiec designed the Interpretive Museum 10 years ago and has continued to advise on the outdoor exhibits and now the new plans to update the exhibits.

“Len has such a fascinating and creative mind,” McCain said. “I appreciate he had it in his mind to create this.”

One of the new exhibits called “The Canal Builders” will give a look into what life was like for canal laborers. In addition to having a laborer’s shanty with plank and straw beds, the exhibit will have an interactive fire pit that will have cooking tools and typical foods that were eaten. This will include a “what’s for dinner” puzzle where visitors can choose what they think they ate for dinner — each correct choice will be worth a point.

The items in the exhibit will be close together, but that’s the idea because that’s how it was, McCain said.

McCain hopes to see the Canal Builders exhibit completed within the next six weeks.

Another new exhibit called “Moving O” will show visitors the end of the canal era and will show the advantage of rail travel over canal travel.

Existing exhibits will get small tweaks like adding materials, adding larger graphics and additional signage, updating timelines, repairing puzzles and more. Many areas will also be painted and refreshed, McCain said. The updates will repair items that have become worn or broken.

Some exhibits might end up with fewer items, but what’s there will be more focused.

One of the most popular exhibits, a model of the canal, needs repairs to the model which has water running through it and allows visitors to move canal boat models across the water. The canal boats also need to be repainted.

The volunteers at the Wabash and Eerie Canal Center have helped make the center what it is today, McCain said. There are about 35 active volunteers as well as a devoted group of about 10 volunteers who come to the museum every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to help with the upkeep of the canal center, McCain said.

In 2005, one year after the Interpretive Museum opened, it was recognized nationally by the American Association of State and Local History. The Corey Award winner named the museum as “The best new volunteer-driven museum in the United States.”

When the Interpretive Center building was created 10 years ago, the estimated cost was $600,000. Through a grant with the department of natural resources and volunteer work, the work was done for $212,500.

Another example of volunteer work is the creation of the canal boat cabin exhibit. The exhibit was estimated to cost $60,000 and with the help of volunteers was completed for $1,200.

“We’ve been lucky,” McCain said. “The volunteers are what keeps us going.”

One thing that surprises workers each year are the number of visitors seen in the six warm months of the year. On average, visitors from 12 different states sign in at the museum each week.

“We are reaching people,” McCain said. “We want to continue to do that.”

Those interested in helping can sign up to be a partner for the museum. Each exhibit has a specific dollar amount needed, but if someone would like to pledge a sponsorship, then the money may be paid over several years. To sign up to be a partner by funding an exhibit, call or email McCain at 765-412-4308 or mccain@carlnet.org. Additional information about the canal center can be found on the website at www.wabashanderiecanal.org.