History is about much more than facts and figures chronicled in textbooks. At any moment, everyone is standing where events took place and lives were intertwined. Over time, special facilities have been designed to showcase artifacts, inventions and ephemera of past years for everyone to marvel at and appreciate.
One such place is the Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the organization, which is wholly dedicated to introducing guests to the founding of local communities and the surrounding Kosciusko County region.
The museum was first a small gathering of exhibits erected to coincide with the Syracuse Sesquicentennial event in 1987. “Originally the museum was only going to be short-term displays around during the celebrations,” recalls Director Jamie Clemons. “After receiving donations from the public, organizers quickly realized that the large amount of donated items could be put together to create a museum for the town.”
The collections were moved from a small venue at Pickwick Plaza to a larger space inside the local library. By 2003 the museum was relocated to the newly constructed Syracuse Community Center, where it’s been ever since.
The museum features a number of locally relevant exhibits that are part of the permanent displays. Among the subjects given a lasting spotlight are the former Syracuse High School, military uniforms and weaponry, photos and information on former businesses and civic leaders, and many other distinctive treasures. There is the J.P. Dolan Native American artifact display, a grouping of more than 800 items gathered primarily between 1880 and 1910. Dolan was a teacher and a superintendent known to take his students on field trips near area lakes, all for the purpose of discovering relics.
The museum also has the honor of hosting one of two Mier automobiles, which were created in the early 1900s by Syracuse resident Sheldon Harkless. The Mier automobile was a type of horseless carriage, and Harkless later sold his blueprints for the automobile to the Ligonier Carriage Company, where it remained in production for four years. The machine featured at the Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum is a 1906 model, while a similar unit from 1908 was sold at auction in 2020.
Clemons offers tours of the museum free of charge, and is happy to welcome groups of all sizes. She is well-versed on the stories
of Syracuse and its environs, along with the indigenous people who once roamed the region. Clemons also notes that donations are always graciously welcomed, provided that the offering has relevance to the Syracuse area. “I encourage the owner to call in advance to make sure it is something that we can earnestly use as a display item,” Clemons says. “If a person has an item they would just like to show me, I usually would love to see it.”
She offers an example of a recent museum patron who visited the museum with a number of family antiques in tow, all from the Civil War area, including a muzzle loader that belonged to his great-grandfather. “I was so excited to just see and hold the items, and talk to him about each piece,” Clemons says.
For those who fancy a glimpse of historic Lake Wawasee and the Syracuse community, there is a searchable database of archives and images, totaling approximately 4,000 files, which can be viewed any time at syracusemuseum.org. The site is also a valuable tool for researching genealogical links.
The museum has a very full calendar of events for 2023. Many of the seasonal events are conducted in collaboration with the community center, such as the Easter Egg Hunt, the Harvest Festival and Breakfast With Santa. In the summertime the museum team sponsors a number of its own programs. Clemons previously led a Youth History Club for school-aged children, where the students learned about farming, bread baking, paper making, blacksmithing, as well as Native American and settler homesteads. She notes that a favorite class involves the art of atlatl making and training. Guest speakers are often featured, including an archaeologist from the Department of Natural Resources, which ties in with Indiana Archaeology Month. The museum also teams up with Chautauqua-Wawasee for historical boat tours and other historically themed events.
The Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum is entirely funded by grants and donations, and receives no local, state or federal funding. The museum is open all year long. The facility is located at 1013 North Long Drive in Syracuse. To learn more, schedule a