MILLVILLE, Ind. — It is a time of celebration for the members of the Wilbur Wright Birthplace Preservation Society as they mark their 25th anniversary. They are the ones who have stewardship of the house and farm where Wright was born near Millville in Henry County.
The Society was established in 1988 when a group of local residents learned that the state of Indiana was planning to sell the Wright farm and move the house to another location to be used as storage as well as demoting Wright's memorial to a small plaque in Summit Lake State Park, a few miles from the farm.
The news transformed residents, many of whom had heard stories from their grandparents of the Wright family, into activists trying to save the region's historical heritage.
Wright was born April 16, 1867 in the small farmhouse. He was the third of seven children born to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright. Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1871.
Milton was a minister in the United Brethren Church, professor of theology, editor of his church newspaper, and an elected Bishop in his church. Susan excelled in literature and science at Hartville College, especially mathematics. She was quite skilled with hand tools and often built household appliances and toys for her family. During his childhood, Wilbur developed many technical skills and learned critical thinking.
In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy "helicopter" for his two younger sons, Wilbur and Orville. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own.
Between 1899 and 1905, the Wright brothers conducted a program of aeronautical research and experimentation that led to the first successful powered airplane in 1903 and a refined, practical flying machine two years later. All successful airplanes since then have incorporated the basic design elements of the 1903 Wright Flyer.
The Society prospers
The Society earned a five-year reprieve from the state's proposed actions. They salvaged a guestbook that state workers had thrown in the trash - it was a book used by the family who had purchased the farm to collect the names of people who came knocking on the door after the Wrights 1903 flight. The signatures of Orville and his sister Katherine are in the book since they came to the dedication of the memorial in New Castle.
The Society built a museum and anchored it with a historically correct full-sized 1903 Wright flyer. They created an interactive museum. At the museum is a sewing machine that inspired 5-year-old Orville to play hooky from kindergarten and tear it apart.
The museum now has a large community room that can be rented, a gift shop, a theater and lecture hall. They built a 1900s-era barn complete with tools, buckboard and buggy. Visitors can also learn how the wrights preserved food at the smokehouse and how they took a bath using an outdoor pump.
In 2003, the Society completed a 1903 street with shops so visitors can stroll, stop at the Wright Print Shop and see where 16-year-old Orville started his Dayton newspaper, the Westside News, which was where the phrase 'Wright Brothers" first appeared. Then go over to the Wright Bicycle Co. and see where they sold their own safety bicycle.
For directions or more information on the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum, go to www.wwbirthplace.com