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Historic building set to reopen in Evansville

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GINA R. HEINE
September 24, 2009
— Evansville residents might remember when the building that housed Baker Manufacturing's headquarters was trucked up Main Street to its new home near the Lake Leota Park entrance.

Since 2001, volunteers have poured countless hours into refurbishing the 1,000-square-foot building.


Now, it's ready for a grand reopening.


The Historic Baker Office Building will open Sunday, Oct. 4, during the Harvest Windmill Festival. It will be the city's new local history museum, visitors' bureau and office for Evansville Community Partnership and Evansville Grove Society.


"We hope it will be a resource both for visitors and residents," said John Decker, president of the Grove Society, the local historical organization. "We'll use it to welcome the visitors and tell Evansville's story to the residents."


The one-story, cream-colored brick building was built in 1897 as office space for Baker's president and engineering staff. It served that purpose until 1940, when a new office was built.


Local historian Ruth Ann Montgomery thinks of the building as an incubator, "because there were three generations of Bakers who worked out of that building," she said.


Three of the four Baker men working there had inventions that were patented and turned over to Baker Manufacturing, she said.


Through the years, the building also served as a church, a residence, a sales office and repair shop, Decker said.


The Grove Society bought the building in 1999 and moved it in 2001 from Church Street in the Baker industrial complex to Madison Street at the park's entrance. The society spent about $35,000 to move it and has put in about $100,000 from donations and grants into restoring it, he said.


"It was pretty awful in here," Decker said of the building's condition after the move.


The group had hopes for a professional restoration, but reality required a mostly volunteer job, he said.


The building had major structural issues, and walls had been painted black or florescent green. Society volunteers, the senior center's Woodchucks group, Baker retirees and local contractors worked more than 10 years to restore the building. The high school's building trades class added a ramp and deck to the building.


"It really is a community effort," Decker said.


As workers finished interior work, Decker pointed out one of the most interesting features: A vault enclosed with two steel doors. Inside the vault: a window.


Museum exhibits

The museum will feature a permanent collection of artifacts and information from Baker Manufacturing, as well as rotating exhibits, said Montgomery, a member of the Grove Society's museum committee.


The rotating exhibits will change monthly and cover topics such as farming, schools in the area—primarily country schools—the city's seminary and other city history, she said.


The museum will provide a home for items scattered throughout the city in basements, attics, garages and barns, Decker said. Until now, the Grove Society didn't have a storage facility or office.


"Once word gets out, I think we're going to see a lot of people offer additional items," he said.


HARVEST WINDMILL FESTIVAL

The second-annual Harvest Windmill Festival in downtown Evansville is Friday, Oct. 2, through Sunday, Oct. 4.


Events include:


Friday

-- 6 p.m.-midnight, festival tent


-- 6-10 p.m., Chamber Buy Local Spin the Wheel Tent


-- 8 p.m.-midnight, band Chainsaw Curtis & The Creepers


Also: Discovering Youth Arts Windmill Art Exhibit in Grange Building runs through Saturday.


Saturday

-- 8 a.m.-4 p.m., farmers market/craft sale


-- 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Chamber Buy Local Spin the Wheel Tent


-- 10 a.m.-3 p.m., kids activities in Franklin Park


-- Noon-midnight, festival tent


-- Noon-3 p.m., open mic/children's performance


-- 3-6 p.m., wine and cheese tasting, high school jazz band


-- 7 p.m.-midnight, Stoned Pony country rock band.


Sunday

-- 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., farmers market/craft sale


-- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., historic Baker Building and exhibits will be open to the public, with dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. The building is on Madison Street at the entrance to Lake Leota Park. Ruth Ann Montgomery and David Fellows will be on site to sell and sign copies of their books.


-- 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Chamber Buy Local Spin the Wheel Tent


-- Noon-3 p.m., Bike Ride Like the Wind


-- Noon-3 p.m., kids' activities in Franklin Park


-- Noon-6 p.m., festival tent open


-- Noon-4 p.m., Stateline Playboys Featuring the Zweifel Brothers


-- 2 p.m., Main Street, Windmills on Parade Art Auction.



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