City Approves New Name: Lake Wales History Museum
Many Locals Still Call it the "Depot"
Last updated 5/23/2019 at 10:25am
The Lake Wales City Commission Tuesday, May 21 approved the name change, recommended by Museum Director Jennifer D'Hollander.
"As an established resource in the Lake Wales community, the museum has included many different activities over the years. Today, the museum looks to the future as a focused, vibrant center focused on historic preservation and community engagement," D'Hollander wrote in her explanation for the name change. "The museum has always been about history. The name 'Lake Wales History Museum' better serves our community and visitors as it clearly conveys the museum's focus on history."
Library Director Tina Peak, who oversees the Museum staff, told commissioners people still stop by the museum thinking they can buy train tickets there since it is housed in the old train Depot. The renaming will help reduce confusion and focus on the mission, she said. Vice Mayor Robin Gibson said the renaming, (removing cultural center and inserting history), would eliminate confusion with the Lake Wales Arts Center. He said both the arts center and museum are doing well: "Each are unique. I like the fact that the name change reflects the mission."
Complimenting D'Hollander's active pursuit of grant funds and expressing approval for the name change, City Commissioner Curtis Gibson asked for the city to consider some sort of special recognition at the Museum for former Director Mimi Hardman, a volunteer who oversaw the museum for nearly 40 years and brought millions of dollars in historic preservation grants to the city. He suggested a photo with a plaque or possibly naming a room after her.
Mayor Eugene Fultz voiced his support for the idea: "Mrs. Hardman put so many years into it and the historic value of our community and that was one of her babies, one of her pet projects."
Fultz noted despite a lack of staff and funding, Hardman kept the museum operating for many years. For some time the museum was operated by the Lake Wales Historic Association, but concerned about its financial stability the city took it back in 2015 in a controversial move that included physically ejecting the 80-year-old Hardman from the building.
Peak said D'Hollander had a photo of Hardman above her desk and the museum occasionally displays a photo of her in her patriotic dress, but she would look into some more permanent recognition.
D'Hollander said that "as part of the museum's new vision for the future, this name change signifies the museum's commitment to bringing the historic preservation of Lake Wales forward and aligns our mission to the goals of our strategic plan."
She said future plans call for creating a long-range plan to restore the museum's train cars and historic buildings, better collection storage facilities and a new master plan for the historic corridor spanning from the current museum at Polk Avenue and Scenic Highway to the 1920 Stuart Dunn Oliver House on Central Avenue. The Museum is now attracting upwards of 7,500 visitors annually and now can tour a newly restored 1926 Seaboard Air Line Railroad caboose, the 1916 Pullman passenger car and 1944 US Army locomotive engine.
Museum programs and exhibits will focus on community heritage and the continuation of offering nationally-recognized historical traveling exhibits, speaker series, the new history bus tour, and long-standing signature heritage event, Pioneer Days Festival, D'Hollander said. This summer, the museum will develop and write new educational curriculum and field trips for students underwritten by a grant awarded from the Mountain Lake Community Service organization.
A project of the 1974 Lake Wales Bicentennial Commission, headed by Hardman, the museum was established in 1974. To date 60 percent of its 20,000-item collection has been inventoried and stored in a new offsite facility. Located at 325 S. Scenic Highway in Lake Wales, the Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
D'Hollander earlier this year hosted a director's lunch and unveiled a strategic plan for the Museum. She said she would be calling on people to support fundraising and implementation of a strategic plan, which lays out ambitious plans for the Museum between now and 2026, when it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The focus is on four key strategies in Preservation, Engagement, Promotion and Growth. A copy of the Museum strategic plan is available online at https://www.cityoflakewales.com/DocumentCenter/View/2891/LakeWales_Vision_Book_FIN---Update?bidId=