Washington County Historical Society Receives FACF Grant | Story
Julie Ashton takes history to the streets.
As director of the Washington County Museum, Ashton knows the importance of preserving history for future generations.
This may mean adapting to current times.
So the Fort Calhoun Museum is working on a project to bring history outside the walls of a building and make it public.
The Fremont Area Community Foundation recently awarded the museum a grant to support a two-year project that will place historic signs in cities across Washington County.
“It’s a big project,” Ashton said. “I’m so thrilled that the Fremont Area Community Foundation took our vision on this and allowed us to get started.”
Ashton said the grant will cover the cost of developing signage throughout the county, featuring historic buildings and stories of events in towns across the county.
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Cities include Arlington, Blair, Herman, Kennard, Fontanelle, Washington, and Fort Calhoun.
“Our goal is to bring the history of Washington County to the cities, to the main streets,” Ashton said.
The project involves creating interpretive signs on streets, in parks, on the sides of buildings and wherever people gather, walk and shop. It will also involve the creation of life-size figures of historical figures.
In doing so, the museum seeks to help:
- Beautify the community.
- Provide points of interest to visitors.
- Keep the community’s history alive.
- Educate the public about the ancestors of the pioneers.
- Increase tourism through effective “branding” of each city as a historic destination.
Seed funding for the project came from the Washington County Community Foundation, with additional funding from the FACF.
“We will now go to the municipal councils of each of the towns,” she said. “We will tell them about the project and ask them to partner with us financially.”
Ashton said it’s important to work with councils to figure out where they want the signs and what requirements need to be met.
“Our plan is to create a committee in each of the cities that would work with us to determine where the signs are going to be placed and what the story behind each of the signs is,” Ashton said.
Although the grants covered most of the cost of making the signs, the more funds raised, the more signs could be erected.
Ashton knows the value of preserving county history, which the museum has been doing since 1938 at Fort Calhoun.
“We preserve the history of all towns in the county and the stories of people and events,” she said.
But Ashton noted that visits to the museum are changing.
Part of the changes are due to the pandemic and part to the fact that people and demographics are changing.
“Young people don’t necessarily come to museums as much as older people,” she said. “They want to engage either electronically or where they are at their workplace, at their school.”
Thus, the museum offers a virtual visit accessible via www.wcnemuseum.org.
“If people don’t want to go out because of COVID or because of time constraints, they can go online to our website and see a virtual tour,” she said.
People who have their own virtual reality headsets can put one on and feel like they’re inside the museum.
“We try to integrate new technologies,” she said. “That’s the purpose of this sign project is to bring the story to the street and to the market.”
Those interested in learning more about the project or getting involved in their own can call Ashton at the museum at 402-468-5740. The address of the museum is: 102 N. 14th St., PO Box 25, Fort Calhoun, NE 68023.
The grant to the Washington County Historical Association (museum) is among those the FACF has recently given to nonprofit organizations and projects.
“We are pleased to be able to provide financial support to these worthy projects and organizations,” said Melissa Diers, Executive Director. “This round of grants will have impact in a variety of areas, all of which benefit and improve the quality of life in the Fremont area.”