The two-story brick building that housed an 1890s doctor’s office in Orestes was in poor shape.
Floors didn’t look safe to walk on. The roof was collapsing; folks inside could see the sky through a hole in the ceiling.
In 1992, the Orestes Community Pride Committee acquired the building for $1. The committee began major renovation work in 1993 to turn the building into the museum to store Orestes memorabilia. After a dedication ceremony in 1994, proud residents formed the Orestes Historical Society.
Carolyn DeLawter Shettle, well-known in the tiny community, was elected the society’s president.
Ever since then, she’s been the only president of the society.
Monday, Shettle will be honored for her work and dedication when she receives the 2012 Elwood H. Phillips Award from the Madison County Historical Society.
“Her contributions to the preservation of Orestes history are best exemplified by her tireless work at the historical museum. They are not only appreciated now, but will have a lingering effect for generations to come as future historians and visitors who visit there will benefit from all she has done,” said Madison County Historian Stephen T. Jackson. “She has indeed carved out a niche for herself in Madison County history.”
Shettle, a 1953 graduate of Anderson High School, actively promotes the history of Orestes where pioneers began settling in the 1830s. As she walked through the two-story Dr. Joel Cook building, she noted a resident from long ago.
“He gave permission for the railroad to come through his land but said he had to have a siding because he wanted to sell wood, but they didn’t. He would throw logs on the railroad track, they had to stop and take the logs off. Next time they came along, he’d drag more logs across. Finally they gave him siding.”
To some the man might be a character; to others a vandal.
“No, let’s call it character,” she said laughing.
Shettle, 77, formerly taught swimming and life-saving classes. She has been married 57 years to husband John, former superintendent of the Indiana State Police. They have four grown children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandsons.
The society meets during spring and summer months; it once drew 30 people to a meeting but many have passed away. Members long to bring younger folks into the society. But Shettle also recognizes that younger people — as well as adult residents — may not know much of the local history of their 400-population town.
“They probably don’t know this was a big town, it had 2,500 people living here. They probably don’t know about the gas boom at all. We had lots of buildings, we had a tile factory. We had a glass factory. We had 13 saloons, I believe it was. There was a rule that they could not have a saloon west of Superior Street.”
Now known as Orestes Road, the street was considered the boundary between families and factory workers.
Shettle’s appreciation for the history of her hometown is natural, though some of it may be rooted in a Shakespeare metaphor.
Shettle said, “People need to know the past. They need to know how people lived, they need to know how things became the way they are now. Who was it that said, “The past is prologue?”
She added, “I think people know so very little about their history anymore. Sometimes I’m amazed at what even the people on TV who are interviewing other people for news items, how unaware they are of the past.”