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Old courthouse may find new life as Union County history museum

An effort is under way to turn the 122-year-old courthouse on Monroe's town square into a museum that enshrines Union County's history.

The distinctive red-brick courthouse would anchor the proposed Union County Heritage Center and Museum, which would incorporate the Marshville museum in the old Town Hall and the Union County Heritage Room, said Virginia Bjorlin, chairwoman of the Union County Historic Preservation Commission.

“With so many newcomers in Union County, we think maybe there's at least some interested in finding out about local history,” Bjorlin said.

The Union County Board of Commissioners on July 21 unanimously approved a $50,000 contract with a Cleveland-based consultant. The idea is to transform the 14,000-square-foot courthouse into space for exhibits, artifact storage and administrative offices.

The consultant's work is expected to finish in about six months.

Until recently, the old courthouse building had housed government offices, including the Board of Elections and the tax administrator's office.

The last tenant, the tax administrator, vacated last month, leaving only the Heritage Room, a repository of historical documents.

Hiring the consulting firm, Westlake Reed and Leskosky, is just the beginning. The historic commission would have to find money to run the museum. Those costs aren't known yet, but Bjorlin said local, state and federal grants, plus private donations, would be key.

A timeline for opening a museum hasn't been set. But the search for exhibits is expected to begin by the middle of next year.

The museum would likely span prehistory to the present, Bjorlin said.

One arrangement could be to divide the exhibit rooms into themes, from business to education to agriculture.

Many exhibits – artifacts with ties to Union County – will come from private donors.

For example, Bjorlin's group secured a desk made for the Union County Sheriff in 1943 by the now-defunct Myers Lumber Co., which made furniture in the Benton Heights neighborhood of Monroe.

The commission expects many military items from 20th-century wars and also has made contact with the owner of an extensive collection of Indian artifacts.