by Samantha McClellan, Shannon Silva, Andrew Vibbert & Danielle Emerling
The beginning of the John Hay Center starts like this: Alice Casper Stevens met her husband-to-be at age seven. Warder Stevens, age twenty-one, was riding his horse when he came upon Alice and her father. Asking for a ride on the horse and upon returning to her father, she said she would later marry him. Warder Stevens said he would wait for her, and he did. They married several years later when Alice was twenty-one, and one of her children would become the patron whose monetary and material donations would give life to the John Hay Center.
The John Hay Center Steven’s Memorial Museum has been a lucky place—this well-funded local gem is had the patronage of Warda Stevens Stout, the only daughter of Alice Casper Stevens and Warder Stevens. When the community decided to erect a historical center, Warda Stevens Stout matched dollar-for-dollar all community contributions, donated the wealth of records left behind by her parents, and gave stock in Standard Oil—a company that was later purchased by Exxon.
The John Hay Center is so named for the Salem-born man that became a close military aide of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. The Stevens Museum, the part of the John Hay Center housing historical records and artifacts, possesses a wealth of information—every thing from Civil War artillery and regalia to stacks of genealogy files for families originating in Washington County. Its written records and physical artifacts span from the Revolutionary War to modern times.
In addition to the home where John Milton Hay was born, the property also consists of mid-nineteenth century building replicas of the town of Salem. The property gives visitors the opportunity to visualize the local historical record in the Steven’s Memorial Museum. The grounds include a smokehouse, a loom house, a church, and a jail. The insides of these buildings are available for touring because the employees also took care to put period furniture within the buildings.
The John Hay Center has the fortune of being a thriving historical repository because of the generosity of Warda Stevens Stout and the continued efforts of the Museum’s friendly and knowledgeable staff. For anyone looking for a combination of great historical finds and small-town Indiana charm, a visit to the John Hay Center is sure to satisfy.
A very special thank you to Dawn Camp and Kathy Wade at the John Hay Center Steven’s Memorial Museum for their time and assistance.
This is the first part in a series of posts celebrating American Archives Month. In recognition of both the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Themester “Making War, Making Peace,” and the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the IU Society of American Archivists Student Chapter is visiting repositories in southern Indiana to highlight materials related to the Civil War.