Union County museum eyes expansion

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

NEW ALBANY – The Union County Heritage Museum is a victim of its own success.
The elegant columned building created for the museum in 2000 was a huge improvement from the former church that had been its first home. The museum offers 4,000 square feet designed for exhibiting aspects of the area’s history like artifacts from fossils and the findings of prehistoric peoples to rare books and photos.
Now, the Heritage Museum is planning a major expansion to better share and preserve its wonders.
“We’ve had a series of board workshops to really gain a better focus on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” said Jill Smith, the museum’s director. “I think we’ll soon be in the fundraising mode. We have some unofficial commitments already.”
The plan will more than double the existing building footprint, adding a new 770-square-foot exhibit room and transforming a hallway into a clerestory-lighted gallery for photos and paintings. It also promises a catering kitchen as well as a meeting room to relieve the standing-room-only situation at many of the museum’s workshops and exhibit openings.
Yet another part of the addition will be nearly 1,000 square feet of new storage and work space for cataloging, restoration and study of artifacts. An outdoor classroom will facilitate events for school groups, among others.
The existing ramp at the rear of the building will be relocated to connect with the outdoor classroom, and a second handicapped entrance is planned for the museum’s front. New restrooms in the expansion and additional parking on an adjacent block also will add to the building’s functionality.
The crown jewel of the addition is anticipated to be a home for writings by and about New Albany’s most famous native son.
“One of the main reasons for our hope for this addition is that we have about 1,000 William Faulkner editions – books about him as well as first editions of his works,” Smith said. The formal library is planned to overlook the Faulkner Garden, which features the flora described in the prolific novelist’s works.
Expansion of the museum is just part of the Union County Historical Society’s long-range plans, which also include staff development, more extensive cataloging, an increasing relationship with Toyota and ever-increasing programming. It has recently acquired most of the block to its southeast, easing its landlocked situation and opening up even more possibilities.
“We’ve got some long-range plans for that property. Shortly you’ll be able to see a tremendous improvement in that area,” Vice President Jim Henson said at the Historical Society’s annual meeting last Thursday. “This has been an exceptional year at the museum.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com