WAR VET MUSEUM History in the making: Curator focuses on barn
An 1810 barn will come to life soon -- as part of the military antiques museum.
CANFIELD -- The Canfield faithful excuse Lew Speece Jr. if he has to dust a little sawdust off his coat.
He's the man with a passion they drive by at 23 E. Main St.
He is the guy who owns the War Vet Museum and dug a basement by shovel when the museum expanded. Then he renovated the attic.
Heck, the hum of a tablesaw qualifies as Mozart concerto on this historic strip, and that music regularly wafts downtown these days.
The 79-year-old retired contractor with watery blue eyes and a tireless spirit isn't nearly finished with the museum he restored himself in 1988.
Speece, who has collected for the museum more than 36,000 items from every war Americans have fought in from the War of 1812 to the War on Terror, is on to the latest project: the barn.
In August, Lew Speece and his son Lew III had Diamond's Crane move the barn, built in 1810, to the parking lot at the rear of the museum, joining the two structures once again.
Comfort Starr Mygatt, in 1808, built the house that Speece turned into a museum. Mygatt constructed the barn two years later. The house was home to several deep-pocketed military men nearly two centuries ago. Then the barn and house were separated when the land was sold off during the past century. Various owners moved the barn several times before Speece reclaimed the structure recently to make it part of the museum.
The barn will come to life again -- just like the house -- if Speece has his way. The venerable structure will house a horseshoeing exhibit and host more war antiques. It should open for business by midsummer.
"It doesn't look like its 200 years old," he mused, intently staring at the blue building earlier this week.
Horseshoeing is next
He plans to dedicate the barn on Memorial Day and bring horses in on certain days of the week. He has contacted friends who promised to do the horseshoe demonstrations. Lots of people have agreed to help. He's paid for the museum with donations. For a guy devoid a quick line or slick suit, he's a knockout salesman.
"There is not a word to describe Lew," Canfield Fire Chief Robert Tieche said. "Lew is very good at that and has worked very hard."
His passion is the product of his tour of duty in World War II. He began collecting relics and never stopped. Speece, a 26-year commander of American Legion Post 177, said he has two truckloads of outdoor antiques to go with the barn and already has moved in a turn of the century butter creamer.
Speece has relied on his three sons, working weekends, to finish the construction. The Speeces have worked steadily since August, when they had the barn moved, to restore it to its original look. They replaced rotting wood but Speece was careful to leave the original siding on the inside of the building. Original beams, dotted with small holes insects bored over the years, still brace the top story.
The weather was so cold in recent weeks he can't do much but catalog exhibits on a computer. He'd rather be out putting new windows in the barn or hanging new doors he made last week.
Speece needs about $10,000 to finish the project. The free-admission museum isn't meant to make money. Not a cent comes from state, national or city funding, Speece said.
He gets his thrills from finding pieces of the past, such as a Korean flag splattered with an unknown solder's age-blackened blood. Eyewitness accounts in piles of Civil War newspapers catalog long-past battles. People within 20 miles of Canfield donated most of the items. They emptied out their attics for Speece rather than test the fortunes on Ebay or antique road shows.
"There is so much that people have donated, we're so grateful," said Speece's son and namesake.
The barn is the final piece -- one slow in coming.
The Speeces are recovering from some hard times. One of Speece's sons, Steve, died in October from pancreatic cancer after a courageous 13-month fight. Speece's wife, Joyce, died in the fall of 2001. Speece took care of her for three and a half years after an incapacitating stroke.
"That was tough," he said.
It made the barn project look easy.
"I'm hoping this year we will have it all done," Speece said.