The new Buckeye Agricultural Museum and Education Center in Wooster at 877 Old Lincoln Way, directly across from the Wayne County Fairgrounds, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays May 5, 12, 19 and 26. Admission will be by donation.

The 19,500-square-foot facility, located in the former Cook International dealership building, has been under development for the past several years by the Friends of Wayne County Fair.

Ron Grosjean of Wooster, president of the group, said the organization has been extremely busy creating what is envisioned as a future tourism draw for the city.

"The only trouble is that since the majority of the work has been going on inside, most people don’t really know what we’ve been up to," he said in a news release.

Grosjean said that while exterior improvements to the building such as a silo entranceway, landscaping, new paved parking area and the installation of colorful murals by Orrville artist Kristin Lorson have made the former industrial building much more welcoming, "Visitors will be quite surprised at what we’ve done to the interior. In some ways it’s like walking into an old barn," Grosjean said.

He said phase one of a multi-phased construction project has now been largely completed, with multiple exhibit galleries, meeting room, art gallery, board room and Wayne County Fair museum room finished.

He said the Friends group is now poised to embark on the second phase of construction, which will create a gallery for large machinery.

Grosjean said the organization wants to open the museum to the public on a trial basis because, "We’re interested in seeing how people use the museum, what interests them, and getting feedback on the direction we’re headed."

He said he’s hopeful that by opening the museum, "We’ll create a buzz about what’s going on there. After people see what we’re doing, maybe they’ll think of some items they have that they might want to donate to the collection."

Grosjean said there are not a huge number of items on display in the museum as yet, because the construction phase is still winding down.

"If we’d had a lot of exhibits, they would only have been in the way up until now," he said, adding, "We have space for a lot of items."

Paul Locher of Wooster, curator and one of the facility’s seven directors, said the scope of the museum’s collections will be statewide, with a special emphasis on northeast Ohio and Wayne and surrounding counties.

"We’ve already received donations of items from as far away as Toledo, and there are pieces of machinery on display manufactured in Dayton, Cleveland, Lancaster and many other places," said Locher. "We’re already covering a lot more territory than we ever thought we would."

He noted items exhibited in the museum will date from the first clearing of the wilderness and settlement of the region, up to about 1940.

"After World War II farming machinery and practices changed dramatically," Locher said. "Machinery became much larger in general, and we don’t have the space for items of that size."

Grosjean said "wish lists" of items the museum is seeking to acquire are posted in the various galleries and directors will be on hand to talk to people wanting to donate pieces.

Donations made to the museum are tax-deductible.

Locher said the museum particularly wants to focus on items having a known provenance.

"We’re looking for items with good stories. If somebody donates an item, we want to know where it was used and who used it, if possible. We want to know what farm, where that farm was located, who ran it, and whether there are any interesting stories connected with that item. Without that information, it’s just stuff," he said.

Locher also noted the museum will not accept items on loan.

"It has to be an outright donation. We’re not going to be housing other people’s things," he said.

Grosjean noted that education will be a big part of the museum’s mission.

"We take that component very seriously," he said. "We want to show people – and especially kids – how hard people from past generations had to work to achieve what we have in the agriculture field today."

The directors said the organization also wants to show off its meeting spaces, which are available for rental by groups. The main meeting room, with space for about 60 people, has a kitchenette and is equipped with a large-screen television and projection equipment for power point presentations.

"We really want people to come out, see what we’ve been doing for the past several years, and get behind this effort," said Grosjean. "We think we’ve got something very exciting to offer."

He said the facility is presently looking for docents and volunteers in a variety of areas, ranging from restoration and general labor, to grant writing and tech assistance.

Other directors of the museum are vice presidents Dr. Richard Mairs and Mike Buchholz, secretary-treasurer Tom Stocksdale, assistant secretary/treasurer Bob Troutman, and Jay Stout and Becky Foster.