Downtown Wabash is brimming with activities that make for a fun visit. A four-block section of Market Street includes public art, several shops and restaurants, the Honeywell Center, the Eagles Theatre, and of course, the must-visit Wabash County Museum at 36 E. Market Street.
“We are a great day-trip opportunity from Fort Wayne/Allen County,” says Teresa Galley, executive director of the Wabash County Museum. “The drive is just about an hour or less, and the amazing Charley Creek Inn is right downtown to make a weekend of it.”
The Wabash County Museum is a state-of-the-art facility that has seen many additions and improvements throughout the nearly 20 years since the building’s grand opening in 2005. The facility is 20,000 square feet of exhibit space with an additional 10,000 square feet of research and conservation space. It houses more than 90 educational and interactive exhibits, a theater, two children’s educational play spaces, The Den for ages 0 to 8, and the Dr. Brush Imagination Emporium for ages 2 to adult.
“Many families travel from the surrounding counties, including Fort Wayne and north Indianapolis, to explore and ‘play inside at the museum,’” Galley says. “Our collection includes about 200,000 artifacts, though not all are on display, of course.”
Exhibits include “Light It Up,” an interactive exhibit celebrating Wabash being the first electrically lighted city in the world. This exhibit allows guests to explore inside the courthouse tower and pull the lever that lights up the town.
The “Modoc” exhibit tells the story of the elephant who escaped from the circus in 1942 and spent five days on an adventure in Wabash County.
“The local coffee shop, Modoc’s Market, is named after her, and we have a fun 14-minute video about her that we show in our theater,” Galley says.
The Museum recently renovated and relocated its extensive military exhibit to allow for growth, Galley adds.
“Our armory collection was restored in 2020 and is on display with our guest curator for special occasions,” she says.
“We also have an electric train exhibit with up to five O-gauge trains running each day,” she continues. “Fun fact – this exhibit was designed by John W. Corso, a Wabash native who made his career in Hollywood as the artistic director for ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and many other John Hughes movies. He was nominated for three Emmy’s and won one.”
With more than 90 exhibits in total, it’s hard for Galley to pick her favorite.
“However, I will say the most interesting exhibit deals with a beautiful piece of art created during the Victorian era and made completely from the artist’s friends’ hair,” Galley says. “The Hair Harp is very popular.”
There are also two kiosks that allow guests to look up topics and browse pictures from the vast archives.
As far as programming goes, the Museum offers many fun, family-friendly activities throughout the year. For example, during Wabash County’s spring break happening April 4-8, visitors can play life-sized Snakes & Ladders (Chutes & Ladders) at the museum.
“Last year, we created a life-size Candy Land game and more than 1,000 people visited the Museum during spring break to play,” Galley says. “A ticket to play the game also includes admission to the full museum.”
On First Fridays, which run February through December in downtown Wabash, the Museum features an exhibit, an activity and a local surprise vendor.
During the summer, there’s a Museum Explorers program that allows young guests to complete a scavenger hunt of the Museum’s exhibits and win a prize. Multiple scavenger hunts are offered so youth can participate more than once.
“It’s a fun way to connect families to the Museum and it provides a great experience for kids looking for something to do during summer break,” Galley says.
The Museum is the producer of Wabash County Founders Fest in mid-September each year. This year, on Saturday, Sept. 16, downtown Wabash comes alive with vendors, food trucks, an adult kickball tournament, parade and more.
“For the full month of October, we pop up our regulation 9-hole golf course through the Museum. Yes, we do own a regulation 9-hole golf course,” Galley says. “Area businesses sponsor the holes and have the chance to decorate them. The theme is ‘Haunted Mini Golf.’ Anytime we are open in October, guests can pay to play a round which also includes full admission to the Museum.”
In November and December, the Museum offers indoor sock skating for kids and the specialty Winter Weekends programming that includes visits from Santa, a real reindeer, the Grinch and Olaf from “Frozen.”
“We just purchased the Indianapolis Children’s Museum Reindeer Barn exhibit, so it will be joining our other holiday activities in 2023,” Galley says.
She values giving visitors the opportunity to connect the present to the past.
“People often think that history is static and that a museum’s exhibits reflect that,” she says. “But our collections and archive are constantly growing, which means exhibits are being updated and changed as we learn more. People think of science as a field that is evolving, but that history doesn’t change. The truth is, we ‘unearth’ more of the stories every day. It is exciting to research and put the pieces together. The Museum showcases our stories that need to be passed down to the next generation. It celebrates our accomplishments and shows how they impact the larger world. It also gives a glimpse of how things that happened in the past are tied directly to things that are happening today.”
The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $6 for ages 12 and older and $4 for ages 2-11. Veterans and active-duty military receive free admission, and seniors can receive a discount.
“Our membership program is an incredible deal,” Galley adds.
For $70, parents and their children in their household can visit the Museum for free for a year. They also receive a 10% discount in the gift shop, early notification for events, as well as lower admission fees for events. Membership also includes two free family guest passes so the member household can bring another family with them for free a few times per year.
“We also offer a grandparent membership for $60 per year,” Galley says. “This allows grandparents to bring any of their grandchildren ages 18 or under with them to the Museum for free with the same perks. We also offer individual and student memberships.”
For more information, visit wabashmuseum.org or call (260) 563-9070. ❚