Bell Township Historical Preservation Society to open new museum

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, March 25, 2013, 1:33 p.m.

As Robert and Dolores Colledge sit among the wood framing and unfinished drywall in an old storefront on Main Street in Salina, they are making history. Again.

The Bell Township site was the former Bell Echo restaurant that decades ago hummed with a jukebox and a soda bar. It is also the place where the Colledges had their first date on March 23, 1947.

Married for 63 years, the Colledges of Perrysville are back in the same storefront, this time helping to open a new museum for the Bell Township Historical Preservation Society.

Charter members of the society that was established in 1980, the couple and other volunteers are resurrecting the preservation society.

The museum, expected to open in May, will house a treasure of vintage photographs and other artifacts for visitors to learn about the history of the area and local genealogy.

A museum is not a unique idea for Bell Township: A fire decimated the society's museumin St. James Lutheran Church in 1996.

“A lot of the interest was lost after the fire,” said Norm Bortz of Bell Township, also a member of the society.

So were some of the artifacts and records. But not all of them.

Historical documents and other materials were stashed in the Colledge's basement, the Bell Township Municipal Building and other locations.

There's so much material to choose from — among them pictures of the St. Patrick Day's flood of 1936 and local celebrities such as Cowboy Phil Reed and the EZC Ranch Girls who were heard over the airwaves of WHJB in Greensburg and elsewhere in the 1950s.

Such preservation is important “and it's really neat to know,” said Lori Calandrella, of Salina, who has two great-aunts who were Ranch Girls.

The society's work with historical materials has been ongoing.

Carole Novosel of the Tintown section of Bell Township has restored 4,000 to 5,000 images and photographs taken in Salina and neighboring communities from the 1700s through 1900s.

And the public seems to be interested in history and genealogy.

Dolores Colledge said, “There isn't a week that goes by without someone calling wanting us to show them something.”

Now the society is trying to get more people interested and involved with preservation, said Steve Nelson, 64, of Bell Township, president of the preservation society.

The years have taken a toll as many of the group's active members have died, Nelson said.

“But interest has been growing and with the opening of this museum, it will generate additional interest,” Nelson said. “We'll have a visible site and facility that people could come to and also join the preservation society.”

The society has a two-year free lease for the building owned by William and Judy Barker of Salina, according to Nelson.

And the group has received a number of donations to start the museum, including help from Tim Strong, 53, who owns the Salina Inn, which has been around since the mid-1800s. Evident that this is a small town: Strong's grandmother, Lula Ripple, owned the Bell Echo.

“History has always come easy to me,” Strong said of his work with the society.

He and other members continue to work on the renovations for the new museum.

“The easy part is renovating,” Robert Colledge said. “The hard part will be organizing all the photos.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

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