The Defiance County Genealogical Society met on Sept. 23 when John Swearingen Jr. gave a PowerPoint program telling about the how he led the historical society’s preservation of Fulton County’s historical collections, increased collaboration among the community institutions, established the Fulton County Heritage Alliance, and helped to design and build the new museum.
When Swearingen arrived in the area, he found that Fulton County abounded with interesting historical sites and historical organizations, but they were each working independently. Some examples were Sauder Village, an old restored depot maintained by FCHS, the Fayette Opera House, the Goll homestead in Goll Woods, Lyons Interurban Depot, Brailey Depot in Swan Creek Twp., and Bean Creek Valley History Center in Gorman Twp., as well as the county genealogy society and historical society. Swearingen felt that a strategic alliance was needed in Fulton County to continue the history preservation.
While working as a substitute school teacher and part-time director of the old 1969 museum which was converted from a house, Swearingen began the task of getting these organizations to combine and work together.
It was hard work at first. He used the analogy of the story of Stone Soup. He asked the questions, “Do you care? Would you share? At first the answer was “No.” He kept urging them to “Bring what you’ve got and put it in the pot.”
Eventually, these organizations recognized the benefits of working together to promote Fulton County’s natural, cultural, and historical resources, along with the historical societies. The Toledo Foundation provided a small grant to help establish the Heritage Alliance which brought together the history organizations in the county into a collaborative working relationship. Other project funding came through donations and state grants that benefit multiple non-profit organizations.
The Heritage Alliance was established and met once a month. Volunteer newsletters shared information. Museum interns were shared, and volunteer training was shared at area museums. However, each group retained its own constitution, operation, membership, and identity.
Swearingen had a background of working in museums, including, among others, his experience as director of exhibits at Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Ind. With this expertise in preserving documents and artifacts, he was able to train interns and volunteers to manage their collections.
The alliance has now begun the task of creating digital records for its collections. Its records and those of the museum are being incorporated into a combined list, thus allowing researchers to find items housed throughout the county.
Due to Fulton County’s location on the turnpike, plans began for a visitor center and museum. In 2013, fundraising efforts to raise money with a matching grant were effective, and in the fall of 2015 there was ground breaking for the new Museum and Welcome Center of Fulton County.
As of 2018, this 4,000-square-foot facility was opened to the public. It is located on Ohio 108, near the Ohio Turnpike in Wauseon—right across from the fairgrounds, providing visitors with an in-depth look at the county’s history.
The next meeting of the DCGS will be Oct. 28 at the earlier-than-usual-time of 6:30 p.m. when a reception will be given to welcome new 2019 first family members and speaker Frank Butwin, who will portray General Anthony Wayne – “His Life and Times.”
Meetings are held at St. John United Church of Christ, 950 Webster St., Defiance.
The church is located on the northeastern corner of the Defiance College campus. Entry is on the north side from the church parking lot adjacent to the college gymnasium. Visitors are welcome.