Thiebaud House

Fundraising continues to establish
Agriculture Museum near Vevay

Historic Thiebaud House, hay press barn
to be part of future attraction

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(January 2008) – In the early 1800s, Swiss immigrants Frederick and Harriet Thiebaud attempted to journey across the Atlantic Ocean to make a new home in the United States. Tragically, their trip was cut short by rough seas and the death of their child, Justi, who was buried at sea.

Thiebaud House museum

Photo provided

Fundraising is still under
way to complete the
Thiebaud House museum.

Although their hearts were broken, their dreams were not gone. The couple’s second attempt at crossing the ocean was successful. Once they landed in America, the Thiebauds, who now had another son, again named Justi, made another long grueling trip to what is now Switzerland County, Ind. The brave pioneer family set up their homestead in what was once a wild frontier and helped foster the Swiss community that is such an integral part of the heritage of Switzerland County.
Nearly two centuries later, the Agriculture Museum Center is being planned on the property once owned by the Thiebaud family. As part of the $2 million project, the original homestead will undergo a major restoration, and a historic 19th century hay press barn will be reconstructed on the property. An existing barn on the western side of the property will be converted to a museum that will include modern restroom facilities and spacious parking.
The 165 acres, located on Hwy. 56 three miles west of Vevay, Ind., was donated by Dow Corning Corp., which had purchased the property because it is situated directly across the Ohio River from its plant.
When finished, the new Agriculture Museum will be interconnected to Switzerland County’s Life on the Ohio River History Museum and the Switzerland County History Museum, said Martha Bladen. She is the Interim Executive Director of the Switzerland County Historical Society. “Heritage tourism is an important part of the economic development of this region. Preservation enhances economic development.”
The farmstead and the house have been designated as two separate listings on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.
Already, some restoration work has been completed on the farmhouse, and reconstruction on the hay press barn is planned to begin in the spring. Bladen said the project should be completed within five years.
The house, a vernacular farmhouse in the Greek Revival style popular when it was built, will be restored to the 1850s. Much of the original house and details are still there, including mantles, trim, baseboards and door frames.
Work to stabilize the house is under way; a new metal roof has been added and the front porch has been reconstructed. Bladen said several grants have been acquired for the work already completed, including $15,000 from the Vevay, Switzerland County Foundation and $32,000 provided by Switzerland County Tourism for the comprehensive feasibility study. Grants and funding are being sought for the $200,000 needed to reconstruct the hay press barn.

Thiebaud House museum

Photo provided

The Switzerland County Historical
Society is doing extensive work
on the historic Theibaud House,
which will be part of the
Agriculture Museum Center.

“We welcome any donations,” said Bladen.
The hay press barn played a significant role in the agricultural history of the area. More than 200 were operating during their heyday; now there are only five left, Bladen said. Hay was important to transportation during the 19th century because the main mode of transportation was horses.
Switzerland County’s Ulysses P. Schenck, who owned a fleet of steamboats, became known nationwide as “the hay king.” He made a fortune shipping hay to Louisiana. Schenck married Justine Thiebaud, daughter of Harriet and Frederick Thiebaud. The Schencks became a prominent family in the community.
The hay press barn is different than other barns. It is designed for a large press in the middle of it. It stands two stories high over a stone basement. In the cellar, horses or oxen were attached to a wheel that moved a pulley. The pulley was attached to a rope that moved massive blocks of wood. In the middle story, a tripping mechanism compacted the hay into 400- to 500-pound bales.
“We are extremely fortunate to have a working hay press barn,” said Bladen. “It will be a vital part of the museum.”
“This project is going to give everyone vision into the past,” said Switzerland County Historical Society President Janet Hendricks. “The museum will be a showpiece for not only the casual tourist but also for those serious about tracing history.”
Hendricks, who is also the junior historical society sponsor, is a descendant of the Thiebauds. Her great-great-great grandfather was Justi Thiebaud, who arrived in America as an infant. “This is a very exciting opportunity for our family,” she said.
The Thiebaud family loved to hold huge reunions and save things, and some of those family heirlooms have been donated to the museum. One of the items, which has been on display in the Switzerland County Historical Museum, is a hair sculpture.
Hair sculptures, popular during the 19th century, were made of the long hair of family members and usually had their names and ages on them. Her grandmother’s sister’s hair, with the age of three years old and the date of 1865, is on the sculpture at the museum.
Roger Reed, Hendricks’ uncle, donated an antique machine that chops feed. That machine will be on display with other early agricultural equipment in the new center.
“The new museum will be a wonderful showplace for the agricultural community,” said Hendricks. “The old equipment is fascinating.”

• For more information about the Agriculture Museum, contact the Switzerland County Historical Society at (812) 427-3469.

Back to January 2008 Articles.



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