Ireland Historical Society is 25

Candy Neal/The Herald
A bench made from a native pecan tree from the original Irish settlement sits underneath part of the Walls of History.


IRELAND  Interesting stories about the history of Ireland, Portersville, Madison Township and Boone Township can be found throughout the Ireland Historical Society’s building.

That was the goal of the society being formed, said Junie Himsel, founder of the historical society.

“We wanted to save the human interest stories and artifacts of this area for future generations,” he said.

The Ireland Historical Society is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It’s been 25 years of steadily collecting photos, newspaper clippings and artifacts to make sure historical events and the stories behind those events are never forgotten.

The society’s building is historical in itself. The building was constructed in 1878, making it the oldest structure standing in Ireland. It was owned and used by the Methodist Church. Himsel was one of the last five members of the Ireland Methodist Church. He sought out a way to keep the building and came up with the idea of creating the society. On the day of the last Ireland Methodist Church service, Himsel talked to Alan Amstutz, who at that time was the Methodist Church district superintendent.

“I asked him later that day and asked him if he’d give us the church building if we were to start a historical society. It took him three seconds to say yes,” Himsel recalled. “Otherwise, the building may have been torn down or made into something else.”

In May 1996, the Ireland Historical Society Inc. formed. In August of that year, the society gained ownership of the building, located at James and Walnut streets. With its original board — Junie and Sharon Himsel, Tom and Esther Kellams and Jeanie Wagner — the historial society set out to collect as much historical information and as many artifacts as it could.

Ask and you shall receive.

‘We searched it out,” Himsel said, “I’ve done over 200 DVDs of local older people at that time, and I’d ask them if had any pictures. And pictures were brought in when we had meetings.”

The main purpose of the Ireland Historical Society is to collect, preserve, research and interpret the history and materials of this area to see that loal historic archives are properly cared for. The society also encourages the appreciation of the area’s history, art and natural environment.

The main hub of the society operates in the basement and looks like a museum. Numerous photos, paper documents and newspaper clippings have been framed and mounted on the walls, filling the basement walls. They are known as the Walls of History and include more than 1,100 photos, all with captions.

“Mostly they’re just human interest stories,” Himsel said, “and they have history behind them.”

Also inluded are many physical artifacts, such as early area doctor Dr. E.A Glezen’s 146 first doctor’s case and his tools as well as an 1854 Hillsboro Church Sunday school banner and the church’s 1854 gavel. Sitting in the center is the largest display: Mike Schmitt’s handcrafted miniature buildings of historical Ireland.

The main floor of the building still operates as a church. Grace and Truth Church has been holding services there since 2015.

Past society meetings have featured various special guests and topics. Some of those include residents sharing their war experiences; local officials sharing history about the area and the county; informational discussions about past ways of life, such as the Irish settlement, historic churches and one-and-two-room schoolhouses; storytelling and re-enactments of past wars and of the lives of important local and national people; and fifth-grade students writing and presenting biographies of their late relatives. Meetings have included music, viewings and discussions of the surrounding items and artifacts, entertainment, refreshments and time for those at the meeting to socialize.

The historical society formulated the Ireland and Portersville/Boone township wall murals that are on display at the Dubois County Museum. It also hosts community events and activities, like the planning meetings for Ireland’s Bicentennial in 2016.

The society’s hub has slowly transformed over the years. The basement was renovated in 2012 to stop water from leaking into the building and possibly destroying the artifacts on the walls. More artifacts have been added: replicas of homes that were in the area, historic seating, tools, signs, festival buttons, trophies, and even a mannequin outfitted in an Ireland Spuds cheerleaders outfit.

Photographs and newspaper clippings have been steadily added to the Walls of History to the point where there isn’t much room left. “I guess we’ll have to go up,” Himsel said, pointing to the ceiling.

Now, the society’s board of directors is many more than the original five from 1996. The directors are Kathy Rinderknecht, Wanda Knies, Angie Rudolph, Janet Schitter, Dana Senninger, Donald Eck, Sylvia Jefferies, Barb Kendall, Margaret Bonifer, Sue Vonderheide, Tom Kellams and Himsel.

With more people of varying ages becoming involved, the society is looking forward to its future continuing throughout the generations.

“My hope is that it continues,” Himsel said

To celebrate its anniversary, the Ireland Historical Society is having an Ireland School reunion at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at its facility on Walnut Street. Anyone who went to or graduated from Ireland High School, Ireland Junior High School, North Side Grade School and South Side Grade School are welcomed, as well as the public. They are also welcomed to bring any memorabilia with them. There will be refreshments and a half pot drawing.

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