By Tim Ashley
MENTONE — Walking into the Mentone Historical Museum, it is clear a considerable amount of the town’s history is on display. But so much more of that history is not so visible.
For many years the Lawrence D. Bell Aircraft Museum on Oak Street in Mentone also had the original section designated for many items about the history of the town. But when interest increased in donating items, the board of directors voted Aug. 28, 2018, to rename the history of Mentone portion of the building the Mentone Historical Museum. It has a separate entrance from the Bell Museum too.
Clearly, more space is needed to properly display all of the donated items. A fund for maintenance and building has been set up through the Kosciusko County Community Foundation and a building committee exists. The committee is considering whether to tear down the existing historical museum and build a bigger one or add on to the existing building.
Linda Cochran, a member of the board of directors for the museum, noted originally the building that dates to the 1970s was designed for keeping Bell memorabilia. The first helicopter didn’t arrive until the late 1990s. Bell was the founder of the Bell Aircraft Corporation and was born in Mentone on April 5, 1894.
But eventually because of the increasing interest in donating items and preserving the town’s history the board of directors wanted to remember that history. “It’s our way of keeping Mentone alive,” Cochran commented.
There are interesting displays to be found including a library table donated by the Tucker family that was built by John Morgan in 1928. Etched on top of the table is the outline of the original plat of Mentone. Tim Whetstone, another board member, said there was essentially nothing in Mentone except for a couple of houses before the railroad came through in the early 1880s.
Another display features War Mothers Unit 106, a group of women who contributed to the World War II effort by sewing, stitching and through other means. Also on display is some of the story of Russell Eber, a World War II veteran from Mentone who had a million dollar estate when he died. He was a woodworker who did his work for the trailer industry.
There are also binders containing genealogies of prominent local families as well as profiles of several people with compiled newspaper clippings, obituaries and more. Volunteers have donated their time to compile the information.
An old photo shows one of the first cars built in Mentone.
Another goal is to put on display the many school-related items. Mentone had its own high school until consolidation closed it in the early 1970s. “There is no place to put them (school items),” Cochran said.
In an attempt to draw more visitors to the museum, panels on the outside of the building by the entrance which are blank now would hopefully have photos put inside them.
Expanding the hours of the museum is another possibility, assuming enough volunteers are available to cover those hours. “We are run by volunteers; many of them are retired,” she said.
Whetstone is also currently working on refurbishing a Bell Model 48 helicopter. It is the only one known to still be in existence.
Both museums are open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays and by appointment. The museums are located at 210 S. Oak St. For more information, call (574) 353-7318.
If interested in donating to the community foundation fund, visit kcfoundation.org/donate and select the Mentone Historical Museum on the donation page. Checks can also be mailed to the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, 102 E. Market Street, Warsaw, Indiana 46580.
The museum is also enrolled in the Kroger Community Rewards Program at www.kroger.com.