After Nine-Year Hiatus, Ohio Village Re-Opens

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Staff interpreters stroll through Ohio Village(Photo: Ohio Historical Society)
Staff interpreters stroll through Ohio Village(Photo: Ohio Historical Society)

For several years now the Ohio Historical Society has struggled to stay afloat financially. During darker days, there were budget cuts, job losses, and historic site closings. But one of the society’s central Ohio attractions, Ohio Village, is reopening after a nine-year hiatus.

Ohio Village never completely closed. Thousands of school children have toured the site to learn what life was like in the mid-1800s. And popular holiday events continue to be held there. But since 2003, the quaint, re-created village has been all but shut down and off-limits to the general public. The Ohio Historical Society’s Jennifer Rounds says the village was closed for two reasons.

“It closed nine years ago due to a combination of budget cuts and lack of attendance,” says Rounds. “We’re kind of like that local hardware store; everybody loved us, everyone loved knowing that we were here but they all went to Loews.”

Burt Logan, who joined the historical society as its executive director in late 2009, agrees that financial pressures led to the closing.

“The former business model back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and early 2000, was that there were a number of artisans in the different shops around the village,” Logan says. “Those [people] were paid and that is an expensive model.”

During the past decade state appropriations to the historical society have been cut by more than 40 percent. Large reductions were made during the Strickland Administration as the governor tried to shore-up a billion-dollar budget shortfall. The fallout took its toll. Two dozen employees were let go and hours of operation at various historic sites around the state were reduced. Hours at the Columbus museum, known now as the Ohio History Center, were also cut.

“At one point we were down to one day a week,” Logan says. “Now we’re up to five days a week and we would like to even see that grow in the future.”

In order to do that the history center needs to attract more people. Part of the strategy is re-opening Ohio Village.

“Rather than asking the question, ‘How can we afford to open,’ we turn it around and say ‘How can we afford not to open the village,’ because it really is a community asset not only for central Ohio but for the entire state. And we believe that by making it open and available that the public will respond; that we will see increased visitation.

More visitors mean more revenue. While admissions prices make up only a small part of the society’s budget, Logan says that source of income is increasingly important.

“Earned revenue from admissions, from membership, from other types of special events that we do are an increasingly important part of our budget,” Logan says. “And we believe that the best way to demonstrate that value is to be open; is to have people come and enjoy the experience and respond accordingly.”

When Ohio Village re-opens June 2nd, visitors will see how villagers deal with life during the Civil War. Here’s an interpreter playing the role of the village school teacher.

“This is our one-room school house in 1862. We’re in the middle of some skirmish with some states in the South and we’re very confused here in the village because they said it was only going to last about three months and the dispute would be settled…”

Before Ohio Village closed, there were paid professional interpreters and re-enactors. Now the majority of costumed interpreters and re-enactors will be volunteers with a few history center employees mixed in. Again, the Historical Society’s Jennifer Rounds.

“We’ll be open any hours the museum itself is, which will be Wednesday through Sunday,” Rounds says. “And several buildings will be open unattended so visitors can come in and play a little bit and have some fun. And other buildings will be open with interpreters, with people in the buildings in costumes where they can talk to them and learn about life during the Civil War in Ohio and really just enjoy the village.”

The historical society is encouraging multiple visits throughout the summer. They say that each day’s activities will be different and that some village characters will change. The Village closes September 2nd.

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