BOWLING GREEN - For the past few years, visitors to the Wood County Historical Center have been unable to enjoy the two-story, wrap-around porches that grace two sides of the old county home. That soon will change.
The 100-year-old wooden porches are being rebuilt at a cost of $435,000 - one of the biggest renovation projects the history museum has undertaken.
"The porches are really im-portant because they are an original architectural feature of the building," Director Christie Raber said. "I think they're interesting because we think of institutions as being very sterile, and institutions back then were not like that. They were much more homey."
The historical center on County Home Road just south of U.S. 6 was built as an infirmary that took care of Wood County's poor, orphaned, elderly, and sick from 1869 to 1971. In 1975, it reopened as a historical museum and is the only former county home site in Ohio that has nearly all of its original structures.
Through historic photographs and old superintendents' reports, it is clear the porches were well-used, both for residents' enjoyment and for more utilitarian purposes like airing the bedding and beating the mattresses. They were built around 1900 with simple wood posts and railings in geometric designs.
"They thought the porches were very healthful. They wanted people to get fresh air," Ms. Raber said.
Neil Munger, who chairs the facilities and property committee of the Wood County Historical Society, said rebuilding the porches was a priority for the organization.
"Keeping the building's integrity, keeping the look of the building, keeping the historical accuracy of the building is something we looked at through the whole process," he said. "I believe it is one of the last buildings of its kind in the state."
He said the porches had deteriorated to such an extent, they were unsafe for people to use.
"If we don't keep the building safe and sound, there's no sense in doing any of it," Mr. Munger said. "The No. 1 priority is keeping that building up."
Nearly two years after the historical center landed $220,000 in state capital funds for the porch project, construction on the porches began July 14. The group is paying for the balance with tax revenues designated for site improvements. The historical society is allocated 0.05 of a mill a year - about $153,000 - to maintain the 51-acre complex.
Ms. Raber said the board looked at using alternative wood products for the porches, thinking they might last longer, but in the end decided against it.
"Because we're a museum, we're trying to preserve this whole building, and everything about it is a teaching tool," she said. "We feel we have to use products as close to original as possible so we can show people what it really looked like. We want people to be on our porches and enjoy the historical feel of them, and if they're staring at plastic rails, it's not going to have the same feel and it's not going to have the same educational intent."
The project is expected to be completed by late September.
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