EATON — Along with two ribbon cuttings dedicating new trails and a new Outdoor Education & Events Center, Preble County Historical Society kicked off its Fall Gathering this past weekend celebrating the PCHS’ 50th anniversary on Friday, Sept. 24.
The celebration even included cake, cut and served by longtime PC Historical Society volunteer and retired educator Barb Cox. “Today is 50 years since Sara [Swartsel] donated it to the Historical Society,” PCHS Executive Director Lisa White said of farm and land which makes up the Preble County Historical Society.
One ribbon cutting was for the PCHS’ brand-new Outdoor Education & Events Center, to be used for both educational programs and smaller outdoor wedding and events.
“It’s an outdoor classroom, where we can actually seat about 150 students,” White said. “With COVID and bringing students from schools and then trying to get field trips back, we wanted to make sure we can take things outdoors and keep it going. So that’s how the idea started. So, we built an outdoor classroom. We can fit about two busloads of kids in there and do pioneer classes or trail classes outdoors.
“Then on the weekends, it can kind of flip into an event center, and it works as an outdoor wedding venue, so we can have small more intimate ceremonies,” White added. “Most of our weddings have been in the amphitheater, but it’s such a large space. So, when we have smaller weddings of 100 or less, they can get married there.”
White said the first time the outdoor venue would be used would be during activities scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 25, as the Fall Gathering continued. The venue will see its first wedding on Oct. 1.
The Outdoor Education & Events Center was constructed with the help of several generous donations.
“I worked with Harold Niehaus, our president, and we came up with a plan and a budget, and at that time wood was outrageous,” White said. “We had a budget of $5,000 to build the Event Center. And I was able to raise the money quickly.
“Thanks to Butler Rural Electric, who started us out with $900, and then Eaton Rotary came in with $1,900, and then the [Preble County] Convention & Visitors Bureau finished up with a $2,000 donation, so that gave us our $5,000 right away. Then Harold Niehaus and three of our interns actually built it. It took them about two weeks to finish, and in the hottest part of the summer.
“Our second ribbon cutting, we are opening two trails, two brand-new trails. We are opening our Orange Trail and our Green Trail, so now that brings us a total of five hiking trails here,” White explained. “It will be equivalent to about five miles total between the five trails.
“Essentially everyone that talks about the Preble County Historical Society, and what they remember most when they were kids, is our swinging bridge, and that’s been gone for many, many years,” White said. “But that trail was still there so we were able to recreate the Orange Trail where the swinging bridge used to be. There is now a new bridge there called the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ And, it’s beautiful — it’s a very long bridge over Aukerman Creek.”
The other new trail, the Green Trail, “is a lot more of an incline trail for hikers that are more serious hikers,” White said.
“I could not have done it at all without Harold, not only the leadership in the project itself but the physical demand,” White said of PCHS Board President Niehaus. “He himself did all of the physical work this summer with his three helpers, and there’s no way we could have finished it without them.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr