County prepares to celebrate birthday

By Kate Greene, Regional Correspondent

2011 marks a milestone in local history as Franklin County will officially turn 200 years old.

To celebrate the county's bicentennial, a steering committee, headed by Linda Hall, is organizing a series of fun and historical events that will occur throughout the county from April through December in honor of this auspicious anniversary.

"We're hoping to pull the whole county together with the celebration and awaken some interest in our heritage and our history," said Linda.

Because Franklin County's birthday falls just three years after Brookville's, in the past both celebrations were rolled into one event, so the county did not have its own centennial or sesquicentennial. Many around the county thought it was time to change that tradition and that Franklin County deserved a bicentennial celebration of its own.

"This will be the first time Franklin County has ever had a celebration of one of its milestones," said Linda.

The bicentennial celebration is going to include a wide range of events including a big opening gala, historical tours, church services, a Native American pow-wow, a quilt festival, an art show, events to honor military veterans and much, much more.

Plans for the bicentennial began in March of 2010. The committee invited representatives from other counties who have held milestone celebrations to give them an overview on how other area counties commemorated their bicentennials. They decided to approach the bicentennial as Dearborn County had with a series of events throughout the year.

According to Hall, the committee has worked "to empower organizations and communities throughout the county to have an event or to add a component to an event that had already been planned." They are also working to coordinate scheduling so that events don't overlap.

"I've contacted many community organizations, and the response has been fantastic," said Linda.

The committee also started prepping for the bicentennial by asking the trustee of each township to help organize an event in their township. Highland township jumped right in, and now Whitewater Township has also come aboard. They hope that more townships will join in the celebration.

Festivities begin in April with a Gala and Bicentennial Kick-Off sponsored in conjunction with Turning Point Gym. The gym's third floor meeting room, that holds up to 200 people, will be the site of a dinner with live music, a special bicentennial art preview and a ceremony where some county locals will be recognized.

In honor of the bicentennial, Joyce Gesell is coordinating the creation of a special bicentennial quilt, with a square made by a resident of each township, surrounding the bicentennial logo in the center of the quilt. Once finished, the quilt will be put on display someplace in the county.

There will also be a bicentennial quilt show, held July 22-24, and hosted by the Franklin County Extension Homemakers. Quilters from the area will be invited to show their work. There will be a merchants mall, appraisers and programs on how to care for quilts. There will be a web site up soon with registration forms and more details about the show. Profits from the event will go towards the Extension Homemaker Scholarship and other community projects.

On June 11 and 12, the Whitewater Canal Trail in conjunction with Albert RunningWolf will be sponsoring a Native American pow wow, which they hope to turn into a yearly event.

For the past year, Judge Steve Cox and Charlene George have been painting a scene a month from each of the townships in Franklin County. They will gather these paintings together for a Bicentennial Art Show at some point during the year. The Bicentennial committee hopes to preview some of these paintings at the Bicentennial Kick-Off Gala in April.

Julie Schlesselman and the Franklin County Public Library have put together a book titled Remembering Those Who Served: The Veterans and Servicemen of Franklin County, Indiana, to be released on Veteran's Day of this year. The book is their contribution to the celebration and honors veterans and servicemen and women from the county. There will also be a Hero Tree, decorated with names of FC veterans, that will be displayed around the county.

One cemetery from each township will be chosen to honor the Revolutionary and Civil War Vets buried there. A sign will be placed in each of those cemeteries to ensure that these brave veterans are never forgotten.

This year will give residents and visitors the chance to see Franklin County as they never have before. There will be several tours of different parts of the county, given by local historians who have great expertise in the areas they will be showing.

Ed Baker and Don Dunaway will be giving cemetery tours of the entire county, including some of the more than 50 pioneer cemeteries located here. They will bring history to life as they tell stories about many of the people who are buried there. This will be the first time countywide cemetery tours have been available.

Franklin County Public Transportation and another community organization will be offering tours of historical sites in Franklin County. Public Transportation will drive tour goers to eight different stops across the county, where locals and members of the Historical Society can tell many interesting facts about each stop. More information about how to book a tour will soon be available. They are hoping to make this a permanent attraction for visitors and residents of Franklin County.

"It could be a win-win thing for our community to invite tourists and teach them about our history," said Linda.

The public will also have three chances, on June 25, July 30 and August 6, to take a free 2-hour guided tour of the Brookville Dam.

Organizers are asking local churches to hold a "Day of Thanksgiving" on April 3 and again on January 1 at the end of the year-long celebration. They are hoping the churches will ring their bells at noon on these two Sundays and possibly offer cake and punch or hold a program about the history of each church. Linda feels this is especially important "because without God's blessing, we wouldn't be where we are.

Whitcomb United Methodist Church's 150th anniversary on May 22 coincides with the county's bicentennial. They will hold an old-time worship service and pitch-in dinner to commemorate the occasion.

Other groups like the Antique Tractor Show, Freudenfest and the Whitewater Valley Railroad are also planning bicentennial events.

Keepsake booklets based on a booklet made for the 1916 Indiana Centennial celebration in Franklin County are being made for the year-long celebration. The original booklets contained an honor roll of dignitaries who were either born in or resided in Franklin County. The list includes college presidents, politicians, authors, painters and military officers. They are updating the honor roll, so if you know of a person who should be included, please contact the committee.

Other items to be included in the booklet are a schedule of events, historical photos and stories, a county plat from the mid 1800\\\'s and a list of local historians. The booklet will cost around $5, and anyone interested in seeing the original can find it at the public library.

The bicentennial committee has been thrilled with local historians who have been a great source of information and help in putting the festivities together.

"Something I'm seeing emerge which is very exciting is new historians, people who have been involved in something and are passionate about it. I am excited about that, they connect our past with our present," said Linda.

Items such as garden flags and crockery with the Bicentennial logo designed by Matt Pennington will be available for sale as the event nears.

"Matt Pennington designed a logo for the bicentennial. He's been very good to work with," said Linda. "It's neat that he is a young person involved in our community."

The committee is also working with Don Dunaway and Jerry Short to create big historical banners, like those created for Brookville's bicentennial in 2008, to be hung around the county. The banners created a big sensation in 2008 and have since been emulated by other communities throughout the state.

Anyone interested in volunteering is more than welcome to come to a committee meeting. Times and dates for the meetings are listed in the paper and on the paper's community calendar at www.whitewater

Any group, organization or township interested in holding a bicentennial event is encouraged to do so. The committee would be happy to go over ideas for an event like a festival, historical talk about the area, old time baseball game, pitch-in picnic or a Sunday afternoon walk to historical sites in the area.

"It's not too late; there's still lots of time for people to plan events," said Linda. "This could be a great chance for the county to celebrate its heritage… this could be the chance of a lifetime to participate in one of these events."

Keep an eye on the paper for more information about the events and for articles about the county's history by Jim Lierl.

Main Street, Inc, is the bicentennial's sponsoring organization, and the event is being financially sponsored in part by a grant from the Franklin County Community Foundation.

Linda said that working on the event has been a rewarding experience. "It's been fun. I've learned so much about our history and met a lot of nice people. They always say, 'the more you put in, the more you get out,' and I've been finding that's true."