GREENFIELD, Ind. — Who owns a massive collection of artifacts from the life of famed Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is at the center of a battle between the City of Greenfield and a local historical society.
The city purchased the Riley home and the home next door in the 1930s. The city owns the buildings and the Riley Old Home Society maintains the artifacts inside.
“It’s been a great working relationship until the last few years,” Greenfield City Attorney Gregg Morelock said.
Morelock said the city wanted to put more emphasis on the Riley home and museum. The city requested access to the artifacts and some exhibits.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been met at every stopping point with a roadblock by the society,” Morelock said.
The society said it is concerned that museum staff don’t have enough training to handle the delicate artifacts. The collection includes items like Civil War era swords and expensive paintings.
Most of the collection is on display at the museum or stored in rooms that are leased from the city by the society. The city notified the society earlier this month that they intend to cancel the lease and have the society vacate the premises.
“It’s just ridiculous of what they’re doing it goes back to my question what’s the goal,” society board member Terry Sargent said.
As part of the lease cancellation, the city will not allow the society to remove any artifacts from the museum that it can’t document ownership of. If any items’ ownership status is in question then the city maintains that it belongs to them.
“If they made us move right now we’d have to put it all in storage and probably other museums in Indianapolis,” Sargent said.
Under a new arrangement, the society no longer has access to the museum and must notify the city 24 hours in advance if it wants to enter its leased storage space.
The society has retained an attorney, setting up a possible legal battle with the city.
“If we can’t find an acceptable agreement then they will be required to remove the artifacts that they can document that they own,” Morelock said.
Both sides agree that if the entire collection is taken by the society or if the collection is split up, the future of the museum is in question.
“Once it ceases to be a museum the home reverts back to the Riley heirs and then they are going to take care of it,” Sargent said. “The way they are going it might. I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure.”
“I think it would still continue on but obviously without those artifacts not as productively as it would be with the artifacts,” Morelock said.
Both the society and the city said they’d like to come to an agreement without having to go to court.