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Columbus finally has a place to showcase its rich history.

The Columbus Area Historical Society has opened a museum at the old location of the First National Bank in downtown Columbus, 116 W. James St. Todd Frey, the building’s owner, leased the space to the historical society and the group officially opened the museum around the holidays. The old bank is an ideal spot for the museum, since it was built in 1861. The bank ceased operations a few decades ago, but the building has been used for other businesses for many years.

Peter Kaland, president of the historical society, said the museum will host events in the future. Its first public unveiling was during the Columbus holiday parade in late November. Since then, local residents have donated items to the museum, including tools, games, yearbooks, sports equipment and other rare artifacts. One of the displays features clothes and chairs from Voelker’s clothing store, going back several decades.

“About five or six years ago, we wondered why Columbus didn’t have a historical society and everyone else did,” Kaland said. “A group of people got together to start a historical society that focuses on not just Columbus, but the local townships and Fall River area too.”

The museum includes rare items, like a printer’s desk from the old Columbus Journal office, going back to the days of ink typesetting. A wooden crate from Kurth’s Brewery can be seen in the building, along with framed class photos from the 1930s, including a rare Reeseville High School photo. Items also include a clock from the Borden’s milk plant featuring Elsie the Cow, Cardinal yearbooks from the 1960s, and an item Kaland believes could be a very old butter churn. A large gold-lettered sign from the Columbus House hotel is also hanging at the museum.

For people who’ve lived in Columbus for many years or grew up in the area, walking through the museum can bring back some fond memories. Kaland said the historical society is always looking for rare artifacts.

“Our mission is to collect items that relate to this community and surrounding areas,” Kaland said. “We’re still in the very, very beginning stages. We’re looking for artifacts that represent the city that might have otherwise been thrown away or might end up on Ebay.”

The building also features unique storefronts that represent what Kaland calls “old town main street.” As the society continues to bring more events to the building, additional opportunities will be available to view items. Kaland said it’s likely to be open more during the summer months, similar to other historical society houses.

“I think as we collect more items, we will have special exhibits,” Kaland said. “If you’re going to have a museum, you have to have a different look from time to time because once people have seen something, they’ve seen it.”

In recent years, the organization has held fundraisers to bring financial support to the society. On Feb. 25, the historical society is hosting a chili/soup luncheon at the Columbus Country Club.

“We’ve slowly grown, but we’re always looking for new members,” Kaland said.

The building has required little maintenance and, according to Kaland, Frey gave the society a favorable deal on the lease.

“He really just wanted to see something useful in this building,” Kaland said. “I think this building has strong potential. We really want to connect the people of the community with its history and its roots and having another attraction downtown doesn’t hurt.”

For more information about the museum, contact Kaland at

Contact Kevin Damask at 608-963-7323 or on Twitter @kdamask