The Jay County Historical Society was started in 1967 as a continuation of the Indiana Sesquicentennial Committee for Jay County. A Certificate of Incorporation of the Jay County Historical Society, Inc. was filed in July 1977, making the society a 501c3 non-profit organization. Early meetings were held in the Hawkins House at the end of East Main Street extended.
In 1972, the society was given the use of part of the 10,000 square foot Hawkins Trust Building at the end of East Main Street, Portland. The building and a plot of land were deeded to the Historical Society from the Morton S. Hawkins Community Trust in 1984. By 1998, the Historical Society had exhibits in all of the building. Over 2,000 accessioned items were on or for display. Between 800 and 1,000 objects and several large wood and glass showcases from the Daughters of the American Revolution collection, which had been housed at the Jay County Courthouse, had also been moved to the museum. Once a year, the society had a two-day open house.
The Hawkins building began to undergo extensive renovations in 2000. The museum and was open Monday through Thursday each week, along with some Sunday open houses. A capital campaign in 2003 raised money to remodel the front entrance of the museum. A reorganization of the displays was begun. That same year, a Ham and Bean Supper, with demonstrations by artisans, music, and tours of the museum, was held. This was the beginning of an Annual Heritage Festival which has continued to grow and expand on the fourth week-end of September each year.
A grant from the John and Marjorie Finch Foundation in 2006 provided for the insulation and siding of the entire building, and the installation of heating and air-conditioning throughout the building. Several grants through the Portland Foundation have made it possible to improve the museum through office equipment, museum upgrades, and programming. In 2007, the museum established regular hours from Monday through Friday, with some Sunday Open House hours. An office worker, hired by government training programs for seniors, was assisted by volunteers.
In the spring of 2009, the board of directors voted to create a weekly paid position for an office manager, thus providing more consistency in the day-to-day operations of the museum. The museum is open from Tuesday through Friday, with volunteers staffing the office on one of those days. Some Saturday Open House hours are held, with special events during the Christmas season.
The Jay County Genealogy Society merged with the Historical Society in 2010. The Genealogy offices were kept at their uptown location for a time, but were moved to the museum in the late summer. Displays and library materials were crunched together to make room for the genealogical material. A property with a house, garage, and storage building across the street from the museum had recently been left to the museum by the family of the late Bill Gilpin, a long-time Historical Society board member and volunteer. This provided much-needed storage for the genealogical information. In the spring of 2011, a carport on the front of the Annex garage was enclosed to provide more needed storage space for museum possessions.
After discussing the museum’s crowded conditions for several years, the board of directors voted in 2014 to increase the size of the museum by adding a 50 foot wide addition across the north side of the building, thus adding 3700 square feet of space for displays, storage, and additional restrooms. A dedication was held on October 4, 2015, as part of the 13th Annual Heritage Festival. Because of the extra space, exhibits have been expanded and are less crowded.
In 2016, the Jay County Historical Society was awarded a substantial amount in a Heritage Support Grant. This was used to upgrade museum displays and storage areas. Items for embellishing displays, signage, lighting, safety concerns, and protection of artifacts have been added by these funds.
The Jay County Historical Society and Museum is governed by a fifteen member Board of Directors. A term of three years is served by each director with one-third of the Directors being elected each November during our Annual Dinner in November.
The historical society and museum have experienced a rapid growth over the past several years with a current membership of over 600. Members receive a monthly newsletter containing both historic and current information. The museum’s collection includes more than 10,000 artifacts, with files and books of recorded history in the 100,000’s. The genealogy library has one of the largest county collections in our area. Visitors from all across the country come to the museum almost daily to do genealogical research, seek answers to historical questions, or view displays.
Sitting from left: Claudia Jones, Kay Locker, Janice Stucky, Jane Spencer, and Judy Zearbaugh.
Standing from left: Carter Leonard, Rob Weaver, Bob Vance, Jeff Bowen, David Frazier, Sylvia Morrical, Blake Watson, Karen Resler, Larry Hiatt, and Phil Rager.
The historical society and museum has experienced a rapid growth over the past several years with a current membership of about 600. Members receive a monthly newsletter containing both historic and current information. The museum’s collection includes more than 10,000 artifacts, with files and books of recorded history in the 100,000’s. The genealogy library is one of the largest county collections in our area. Visitors from all across the country come to the museum almost daily to do genealogical research, seek answers to historical questions, or view displays.
903 E Main St.
Portland, Indiana 47371