Walking horse museum endorsed

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another step is being taken toward enhancement of Lewisburg as a tourist destination in hopes of improving the local economy and reducing the unemployment rate.

"I'd like us to go on record as supporting the Tennessee Walking Horse Museum exhibits being in Lewisburg," Marshall County Commission Chairman Tom Sumners said this week.

"I think it would be a plus for the county," Sumners said of the resolution endorsing establishment of the museum here, "and it would let the people in Shelbyville know how we feel."

Sumners was drafting a resolution this week so county commissioners could show support for having the Tennessee Walking Horse Museum in Lewisburg. Discussion among Lewisburg planning commissioners this month revealed local interest in having the museum here as a destination for travel buses serving the heritage tourism market. Then, confirming the availability of the museum for a different location, two top leaders of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville said Jack Daniel's Distillery doesn't want to renew the lease it provides in Lynchburg for the museum.

"Celebration officials told our president that they were no longer interested in the museum in Lynchburg," Ron Thomas, executive director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors' Association, said this week as he followed up on statements from Celebration Board Chairman Henry Hulon and Dr. Doyle Meadows, executive director of The Celebration.

Celebration officials also told the walking horse registry association here in Lewisburg, "that not only could TWHBEA have the museum but The Celebration would help with the cost of moving its contents to the place of our choice," Thomas said.

That position taken by The Celebration was early this year, but it apparently hadn't become publicly known until this month.

"We began a fast-paced effort to find a proper place for the museum [but] then learned that Celebration officials had changed their mind," Thomas said this week.

The Fly Arts Center, a museum and entertainment venue in Shelbyville, was mentioned during telephone interviews last week by The Celebration officials as another prospective location for the museum's exhibits.

"At this point we are studying the possibility of an industry museum for Lewisburg and Marshall County," the TWHBEA executive said. "There are plenty of artifacts, trophies, and memorabilia for a museum of interest in this area. We are reviewing these issues at present to determine appropriate costs."

The Tennessee Walking Horse Museum in Lynchburg is open year-round and chronicles the history of the breed and its world championship show. In 2007, the museum recorded visitors "averaging over 1,000 visitors per month," according to a Shelbyville Times-Gazette story published Feb. 13, 2008.

"Miss Mary Bobo's, a well-known Lynchburg restaurant owned by the Jack Daniel's Distillery, returned to its downtown location early in 2007 after spending a year at the distillery's visitors center due to renovations," the Times-Gazette reported. "The re-opening of Miss Mary Bobo's, with expanded seating capacity, may have helped increase downtown traffic, benefiting all of the downtown merchants as well as the museum."

Walking Horse Museum exhibits include displays chronicling the history of the breed, the care and maintenance of the animal, past World Grand Champions, the history of The Celebration, and tributes to a featured trainer and breeders, the newspaper reported. The museum was originally opened inside Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, but moved to Lynchburg. Museum hours have been 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, but it's closed 12-1 p.m. for lunch. There is no charge for admission. The museum is located on the square in downtown Lynchburg.

In preparation for the monthly meeting of the Marshall County Commission at 6 p.m. Monday in the County Courthouse Annex, the commission chairman, Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, Budget Director Freda Terry and County Attorney Bill Haywood review the agenda.

Sumners' proposed resolution is not on the agenda and so for it to become the subject of a commission vote, the rules must be suspended. Sumners did not anticipate objections.

"I'll be asking a member of the Agriculture Committee, or perhaps Commissioner Rocky Bowden to introduce it," Sumners said Wednesday, noting Bowden has a personal interest in walking horses.

Sumners planned to be meeting with Shelbyville-based attorney John T. Bobo, a member of The Celebration Board, on Thursday, the commission chairman said. While his meeting was about other business, Sumners noted Bobo's relationship with The Celebration.

Sumners has also been a long-time community columnist for the Marshall County Tribune, contributing his column, "Let the Horses Talk," as a featured item.