Rock County Historical Society looks to future

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Monday, February 27, 2012
— Picture the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations as a cultural campus that anchors an art and entertainment district stretching to Rotary Gardens.

That's the vision of the Rock County Historical Society, which is charged with making the house museum a dynamic part of the community.

"Our immediate goals are to get more of the community utilizing our facilities, for both public and private events, and to contribute to the cultural richness of Rock County," said Chuck Rydberg, president of the historical society.

"What we are doing is feeling our way and evolving and responding to community needs. We have to give (people) reasons to come."

Two years ago, building maintenance at the restorations reached a crisis point, and the city council promised millions for rehabilitation if the society found ways to increase revenue.

House museums across the country are trying to reinvent themselves. In Janesville, school field trips often are the first and last times that residents set foot in the house.

The society is fashioning a business plan to bring people to the grounds over and over. It will look to partner with downtown businesses and organizations to create a synergy that works for everybody, Rydberg said.

The society unveiled its plans Sunday when it hosted the council and other community members. It also celebrated its new roof and interior gutter system. The gathering, which included music and drink in the Tallman House, was a demonstration of what can be done today.

"The house was made to be used," Rydberg said.

The group then moved into the nearby Helen Jeffris Wood Museum for more music and food.

New society directions include:

-- A partnership with the Beloit International Film Festival. Quarterly, the society will screen popular films in the just-opened lower gallery of the Helen Jeffris Wood Museum. That space has been used to store collections.

-- A partnership with the Beloit Janesville Symphony to stage concerts, some outdoors.

-- Renovations to the Charles Tallman House, which the society bought three years ago. Plans are to move the archives into that building and open it for public research.

-- A greater emphasis on booking gatherings of up to 75 people, including weddings, photo shoots and business events.

-- Rotating exhibits to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of Rock County that resulted in the businesses that make it so important, Rydberg said. Those include Parker Pen, Prent, Pickard China and Lab Safety.

Good things are already happening, Rydberg said. Attendance at this year's Tallman Arts Festival was up 25 percent. An Easter egg hunt has become a success with hundreds of kids swarming the lawns. An antique car show is scheduled Memorial Day weekend.

The society will next renovate the carriage house, which is crucial as a staging area for catered and outdoor events. An anonymous donor gave $50,000 toward the $200,000 needed to stabilize the post-and-beam barn.

Quint Studer, a Pensacola, Fla., businessman and philanthropist with ties to Janesville, donated $60,000 to help the society reach its goals.

"To me, how you treat your past is how you're going to treat the future," Studer said. "Letting the past decay isn't honoring it."

The Tallman grounds are perfect to become a multiple-use center to create a revenue stream, Studer said.

"You have to constantly be changing to get repeat visitors," he said.

Last updated: 7:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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