Relive Hamilton's past at The Butler County Historical Society.
The Butler County Historical Society was formed in 1934. In the grand scheme of things, the Butler County Historical Society hasn’t been in their current location that long. The Butler County Historical Society has been a museum since 1947 when Pauline Benninghofen left the house to the Historical Society. The house is in almost pristine condition despite being built in 1863. With the original architectural details, furnished with Victorian desks, chairs, and couches, 327 N. Second Street is the perfect place for the Historical Society.
I met with Kathy Creighton, Executive Director, at the BCHS and there wasn’t much she didn’t know about the history of Hamilton or Butler County. I talked to Kathy about the revitalization that is going on in Hamilton and how the BCHS plays a vital part in Hamilton’s resurgence. “It is very cool how Hamilton is reinventing itself, but it is important to learn its history,” she said. “Spooky Nook has transformed a well-known paper mill, giving it a new use as a sports complex. Keeping our history alive helps us understand the significance of Spooky Nook and that they are preserving the integrity, the bones, and the stories of the paper mill. They are keeping the steel beams, open spaces and the façade, so visitors can see and feel the special role of the paper mill to Hamilton,” Kathy explained.
Kathy explained to me that what she likes the most about the BCHS and what sets them apart from other historical societies in the area is the location. They use the house to tell the stories rather than just being a building full of newspapers and books. “We have people come in and see how they really lived in Hamilton. To see what life was like. We try to keep the house in a way that looks like the Benninghofens just stepped out. You feel like you just stepped back in time to 1890, 1900”.
Kathy was kind enough to show me some of the stories that the house had to tell, starting with the flood of 1913. There’s a piece of furniture, a large China cabinet she referred to as “The Witness”. Someone had come by to put up the flood level marker using GPS. Kathy simply remarked that they didn’t need all that technology when they could just ask “the witness”. The cabinet is massive and could not have been carried up the stairs during the flood. With the right lighting, you can see on the cabinet a faint water mark, a mark that was actually within one eight of an inch of the GPS measurements for the flood line.
I spoke with Kathy about the importance of preserving history and how younger generations can get involved. “If you’re in American History and you have a project about local history, we’ve got the papers, we’ve got the books, we’ve got the stories! If you need to do a report, come here! We’ll help you”. Not only does the BCHS have the history, but they also provide a way for high school students to obtain community service hours. Whether it’s something that can be done at home or at the BCHS museum, they can help.
The BCHS has something for everyone whether it’s wedding dresses of Butler County, medicine in the 1800s, or the battle colors of the 35th Ohio volunteer infantry, a Civil War unit known as the Butler Boys. The next exhibit will be “In Sickness and in Death: 19th Century Medicine and Mourning”. The home will feature a scene from a Victorian funeral. See, funeral homes weren’t always a thing. Embalming didn’t exist until around the time of the Civil War. Funeral homes were starting to come around in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Until the beginning of the funeral home industry, funerals and visitations happened in the home. “These are the stories that everyone needs to know. Kids from Butler County need to know. Kids today need heroes and people to look up to. And if they don’t know their history, they don’t have these people to admire”.
The BCHS truly is one of the best kept secrets in Hamilton. It’s a place for learning but in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a classroom, reading from a book. Kathy explained that when you come to the BCHS, it’s unlikely you’ll hear the same story twice. “If you come to the BCHS, depending on what guide you get, you’ll get a different tour. We all have different ways of telling the story, we have our own stories we tell. The story you hear just depends on the guide you have.”.
The Butler County Historical Society is located at 327 N. Second Street Hamilton, Ohio 45011. You can contact the BCHS by phone 513-896-9930, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.