Genealogists, history buffs, children and other county residents come in looking for a slice of historical Johnson County life.
They can see how Johnson County pioneers lived, how teenagers rocked and lived in the 1950s and what county residents ran for national political offices and the history of elections in the county. Head to the basement of the Johnson County Museum of History and look up the history of your family in the genealogy library.
A museum dedicated to a county’s history isn’t rare — about 25 exist in Indiana — but not every county has a museum where curators try to tell history through the eyes of their county’s residents. Visitors flock to the Johnson County Museum of History at a rate that surpasses 10,000 a year.
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Emily Spuhler knew this was the perfect place to start her career as a curator.
The 25-year-old was hired and started in October.
The Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin lured her from her hometown of St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, to run the museum’s archives and library and help set up exhibits as one of two full-time employees.
The smallness of the museum was one of the most intriguing factors, since she could dip her hands in nearly every aspect of running and caring for a museum, she said.
She collects donated items and archives them, researches and plans the next exhibit and occasionally kicks on the jukebox in the ’50s section when she is watching the front desk for visitors.
“For me, that was how it worked out,” Spuhler said.
The next exhibit at the museum is about World War I. The display will replace the election history exhibit and mark the 100-year anniversary of the Great War.
Spuhler is busy researching for the exhibit by checking out books at the library, reading letters from Johnson County soldiers to their loved ones and combing through the museum’s collection of donated artifacts.
Her job is to help compile her research through the library and website checks, information from letters and the library of archives to tell the story of an international event through the eyes of county residents.
“That is what we want to do, take a story and tell it through Johnson County’s eyes,” she said.
Her most recent position at a museum was an internship as a collections assistant at the Missouri Civil War museum. She knew she wanted to work and manage museum exhibits after studying history in Missouri. She made the decision to pursue her career path after hearing her grandfather’s tales of working on historical documentary films and seeing his collection of artifacts from his travels.
When a curator position at the Johnson County Museum of History opened up, she applied.
While visiting during her interview she was drawn to the building at 135 N. Main St., Franklin, which was a former Masonic Temple.
And she said she was impressed with Franklin’s downtown area and the plethora of shops and restaurants around the museum. She settled in Greenwood, a city that reminded her of her hometown of Saint Charles, Missouri, for its suburb feel being next to a bigger city.
“I really loved Franklin and Johnson County,” she said.
She joined a staff where she was one of two full-time employees and two part-time employees to help oversee the museum’s six permanent exhibits, one rotating exhibit and the 56,000-piece library of donated items the museum keeps.
When Spuhler interviewed for the position, David Pfeiffer, director, was looking for a curator who had a master’s degree. Spuhler graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a degree in history. She has a master’s degree in historical administration.
She was upbeat, and Pfeiffer thought she could fit in with the small staff that feels like family, he said.
“When she interviewed, we could tell she would work well with our group here,” Pfeiffer said.
Finding a small county museum to work at was a rare find, Spuhler said.
She was looking for a job that would let her be a part of every aspect of museum work. Her days could range from archiving donated artifacts, to watching the front desk to doing research and outlining for the museum’s next rotating exhibit.
“Her job is curator, but she is covering the ground of four or five other job titles,” Pfeiffer said. “You are definitely never going to get bored, you are doing something different every day.”
The variety of the jobs is why she loves her position and she loves the museum’s building and the fact that it is devoted to Johnson County history, she said.
“For me that was great to see a special, unique thing,” Spuhler said.
Part of what makes the museum special is the location, Pfeiffer said.
The museum is in downtown Franklin, counting The Willard restaurant, with a storied history, and the Artcraft Theatre as historic neighbors, he said.
Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The county budget pays for the cost of the building and the salaries for the director, curator and two part-time employees. The Johnson County Historical Society pays for the cost of programming and archive storage.
The museum takes donations of artifacts from residents as long as the artifact has a connection to Johnson County, she said.
56,000: Number of artifacts at thr Johnson County Museum of History
4: Number of employees. Two full-time and two part-time
6: Number of permanent exhibits
1: Rotating exhibit that changes twice a year.
10,000: Number of visitors to the museum annually
12,000: Goal of number of annual visitors by 2018
Name: Emily Spuhler
City of residence: Greenwood
Job: Curator at the Johnson County Museum of History since October
Education: Bachelor’s of arts in history from the University of Central Missouri; master’s degree in historical administration from Eastern Illinois University
Hometown: Saint Charles, Missouri