Providing a link to the past

Henry County museum on track

Historical Society members
envision a learning, history center

By Laurel Harper
Contributing Writer

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (June 1999) – The signs of neglect are everywhere: water stains the color of tobacco juice drooping from ceiling to the floor, cracked windows and dingy, sagging wallpaper are just a few of the more obvious scars. Yet the elegant fireplaces and graceful, winding staircase offer a glimpse of the quiet dignity that New Castle’s Caplinger House once displayed.

Henry County History Center

Photo by Don Ward

The Henry County Historical Society
is trying to raise the money to
renovate this house in downtown
New Castle, Ky., to use as a
historical society museum.

This former glory is what president Shirley Sills and other members of the Henry County Historical Society envisioned the first time they walked through its door.
Add to that the structure’s own history and prime location, on Hwy. 421 just half a block south of the Courthouse Square, and the society couldn’t turn down the chance to buy the house when it became available two years ago during Henry County’s bicentennial celebration.
In the long process of restoring the Caplinger House’s original charm, the society’s members are seeking much more than just an architectural showplace of the past; they are looking to the future, too. They envision a diorama outlining Henry County’s development painted on the floor of the left front parlor. They see shelves of educational pamphlets and files of the county’s precious archives lining the walls. They picture rotating exhibitions in the right front parlor. In their minds, the dining room will become a conference center, while the upstairs bedrooms are transformed into a state-of-the-art computer hub.
When complete, the Caplinger House will play a prominent role in educating people about Henry County’s heritage, as home of the Henry County History Center. (Henry County was formed from part of Shelby County in 1798 and named in honor of American Revolutionary Patrick Henry. In the early 1800s, Henry yielded up some of its area along the Ohio River to help create Trimble, Oldham and Carroll counties.)
The society first decided it needed a place to house a museum, genealogical and educational resource center back in 1993.
“We wanted to reach Henry County students and adults to make them aware of their heritage and provide a learning atmosphere,” says Sills, a former Saginaw, Mich., resident who adopted Kentucky as her chosen home when she and her husband moved here 11 years ago.
“Henry Countians are very serious about retaining our heritage,” adds Pat Wallace, a long-time society member who currently serves on its board of directors.
“History is embedded with the people here, so we needed a convenient place where they could link with their past.”
The 136-year-old Caplinger House seems destined to fill that role perfectly.
It was built in 1863 by James Nelson Caplinger, a carpenter and pharmacist who had moved from Shelby County to New Castle in 1852. (He later produced two duplicate homes in New Castle for his daughters.) The house has had a number of owners through the years, including the United Methodist Church which used it as a parsonage for nearly half a century (1917 to 1969).
When the Historical Society bought the house, it was once again in the hands of private owners and, though the Kentucky Heritage Council declared it structurally sound and “a good example of its period’s architecture,” the house was definitely in need of some TLC.
And that TLC takes a lot of money, the society has discovered. Members are assisting in whatever tasks they can, such as scraping off wallpaper, but much of the work still requires professional attention. Additionally, the work must comply with historical preservation guidelines, a job being overseen by Lexington architect Jed Porter, assisted by an historic preservation consultant from the University of Kentucky.
A new copper roof, hidden guttering and downspouts to halt the extensive water damage topped the Society’s list of immediate concerns. That job was recently completed at a price tag of about $35,000. Rebuilding the three chimneys soaked up another $2,000.
With electrical, heating and air conditioning work, plumbing, new windows and making the house handicapped accessible remaining to be done in Phase I of the restoration, the society knows it’s facing another whopping cash outlay.
After that, they’ll concentrate on financing the reinforcement of upstairs flooring, adding a new climate-controlled room for storing archives in an area presently occupied by an enclosed porch (not part of the original structure) and installation of a sprinkler system (Phase II). Phase III involves landscaping and pouring a parking lot. If all goes as scheduled, Phase I will be finished by January 2000.
Finding the monies to finance such an undertaking might overwhelm a less determined group, but the Henry County Historical Society’s 200-plus members exhibit an enthusiasm not often seen in volunteer organizations of this sort.
After all, they raised the $55,000 to purchase the home using proceeds from the sale of a series of Henry County history-related books, along with private donations. Now they’re throwing their energy into raising money for the restoration.
“Henry isn’t like some counties that have the money to hire curators, but we have a close group who really have pushed to get this project off the ground,” Sills said.
Still, she and Wallace admit, they could use more help. “We have the pie in the sky,’ Sills says, “but getting there is next.”

•  For additional information or to learn how you can assist in this project, write the Henry County Historical Society at P.O. Box 570, New Castle, KY 40050 or call Pat Wallace at (502) 845-0806. You can also find them on the Web at: http://henrycountykentucky.com/history.htm.

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