The shears that opened the Crawford County Historical Museum are framed and tagged on a shelf inside the front door, with detailed information about the museum’s opening. They were first used on October 16, 1968, by Goldie Kelly to cut the ribbon at the museum’s first location, at 307 E. Madison. Then they were used on Sept. 24, 1978, by then-Crawford County Commissioner Johnnie Brown to cut the ribbon on the museum’s home on the U.S. Highway 69 Bypass.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015, marks another milestone in the museum’s history — its closure.
The Historical Society of Crawford County disbanded on Wednesday. Museum executive director Mark Dulek turned out the lights, locked the doors and turned over the keys to county officials.
“Basically, I have to go find a job,” Dulek said. “I did it as long as possible for free. It’s hard to look for a part-time or full-time job when you can’t work weekends or Fridays... I did it as long as I possibly could. There’s never a good time to close a museum.”
The museum, which had been open Friday through Sunday, includes many of the county’s historical artifacts, from fire engines and a restored omnibus to mining artifacts and a collection of dolls.
The earliest parts of Crawford County can be found in the Crawford County Historical Museum. The first printing press in the county, likely from 1857 and originally located in Cato, is inside the museum. A desktop seal, likely from 1875, identifies the city as “New Pittsburgh” — with an H.
Inside the front door of the museum is a wall with words written by the museum’s founders:
“It was built with taxes and by individual contributions of time and money... This museum is part of our history and will never be finished. It will continue to grow.”
But it hadn’t grown, particularly in recent years. Even as Dulek completed various projects and efforts, the effect wouldn’t make much difference.
“I just kept hoping I could do projects and get press, and people would show up,” Dulek said. “We could be on the front of the paper, and the next day, no one would show up. It would be top of the page and color photos, and nobody comes the next day,” Dulek said.
Over Memorial Day, one of the busier weekends for tourism, Dulek said the museum only saw five families come by.
“Apparently, there’s no interest. People want it, but they don’t want to support it,” Dulek said. “Ask the guy standing next to you when he came last and why.”
That’s not to say Dulek was without help. He specifically thanked church groups, the Pittsburg High School Key Club and the Girard High School Art Club for their work in doing various projects.
For decades, the museum was run by longtime director Denzel Davidson. In fact, the Crawford County Museum Board dedicated “This Room” to Davidson in 2000. Davidson passed away in 2014, but had relinquished control of the museum to Dulek a few years earlier.
“Denny did it until he couldn’t any longer. I wanted to make as good and work as long as possible, so someone else could take it,” Dulek said. “...I can’t do this any longer. I can’t afford it. Nobody earned the right to take it from us. We wouldn’t just give it to anyone off the street. It’s better to try and fail than to not have tried at all.”
So now the building will go back to Crawford County, whose commissioners were a bit surprised to find a museum on their hands. Commissioner Tom Moody said the county would try to figure out a long-term solution that involves opening the museum again.
“I went out there quite a bit as a youngster. Breaks my heart to see that place closed. I’m certainly not giving up on it, and will do whatever it takes to get that place open. That’s our history on the bypass. It needs to be open and be shared with everyone,” Moody said.
“Right now, we’ll let the smoke clear a little bit and try to look into different avenues to get the museum back open. It’s really a sad thing to think that it’s closed. Unfortunately, there’s a money issue. We need to try to figure out something that’s going to work. We’ve looked at different avenues for funding. The amount of funds it’s going to take is going to be significant.”
The county has already had the utilities turned on and made sure the heating and air conditioning are running, as well as the dehumidifiers, to protect the artifacts inside the building.
Moody said that Wednesday marks a sad milestone for the county museum, but that he’s thankful for the efforts Dulek and others gave over the years.
“I commend Mark Dulek. He did an admirable job as long as he could. I appreciate that. It’s more than a one-man job out there, and he just had trouble finding people to help with it,” Moody said.