Just five months after its opening, the History Museum on the Square has been named the country’s “Best New Attraction for 2019” by USA Today.
Executive Director John Sellars said he didn’t know the museum was up for nomination until the 20 nominees from across the country were announced.
Once the 20 nominees were decided, the public voted for 30 days in December.
“The last week of the voting it went dark,” Sellars said. “Up to that time we knew we were in the lead. The number two below us was the AKC Museum of Dogs. Now, if you’re going to get beat, you’re going to get beat by puppies.”
This time, the dogs did not have their day. When the final results were announced, the History Museum on the Square remained in first place.
The museum did not come together quickly. Work began in 1975, and the building has changed multiple times since the project’s inception.
“It has been a character builder,” Sellars said.
The museum building has required drastic renovations, thanks to a great amount of asbestos. The buildings originally on the corner of the Square had burned down in 1913 and were rebuilt with extra focus on ensuring they would not burn again.
By the time the building was asbestos-free, all they had left was a brick box.
No walls. No doors.
While this was an expensive reconstruction, Sellars said it’s allowed the museum to be the most cutting-edge and modern it can possibly be.
“You can’t do better, I don’t think, than we have done to tell people and have people experience the stories of this place,” Sellars said. “It’s a proud, proud thing for me and all of us here — what we have to give to the community.”
Since opening in August, the museum has been tracking where its visitors are from. Currently the museum has been visited by residents from 44 of the 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
It’s also hosted people from 25 countries, Sellars said everywhere from Aruba to Wales have come to experience what the museum has to offer.
“It’s wonderful,” Sellars said. “It’s interesting to interact with them and find out why they came, what brought them here.”
Sellars joined the project as a volunteer in 1976 but left for a significant amount of time. After retiring, he returned to work on the museum and in 2005 assumed the role of director. He found working on the museum to be too enjoyable to stop.
“For a man of my age, to come to work everyday knowing I’m going to learn something, I’m going to find out something interesting that day, is extraordinary,” Sellars said.
Students who want to experience the USA Today’s Best New Attraction themselves can visit the museum Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Currently the museum offers a $3 discount to students who present their student ID.