The Washington County Historical Society will have a special election of board members this Saturday, Nov. 23 at the museum at 6p.

The election was forced after a lawsuit was filed in June 2018 against the Washington County Historical Society by former board members, John Mead, D. Jack Mahuron, Myron Short, Raymond Lee, and Larry Shrum.

The original lawsuit argued, among other things, that the historical society hadn’t followed its own bylaws and the Indiana Nonprofit Corporation Act in holding elections.

The court proceedings ended with special judge Larry Blanton issuing an order over a year later for a special election of new board members coming up this Saturday, Nov. 23 at 6p. 

Blanton ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order on Oct. 16, noting that all members had to be notified that an election would be held on Nov. 23.

“The Society has wholly ignored and failed to recognize their own standards and obligations as set out in Society’s Constitution and By-Laws,” Blanton wrote in an order issued in August. He said the historical society had been non-compliant since 2003. 

The plaintiffs were members of the board on and off since 2003.

To follow the public record of the court actions – click this link

This meeting on Saturday is closed to the public and only open to members of the historical society. 

Blanton outlined that nine members should make up the board – President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and four (4) directors.

All but one of the plaintiffs has filed to run in the upcoming election. 

According to Blanton’s order, the membership had until Nov. 1 to submit names to seek election on the board.

Those on the slate for voting are, in alphabetical order:

  • Todd Baker
  • Adam Bell
  • Amanda Bills
  • Boyd Boling
  • Susan Boling
  • Martha Bowers
  • Matthew Clark
  • Tom Day
  • Richard Dixon
  • Jordon Dos Santos
  • Vince Gay
  • Dr. Gene Hedrick
  • John W. Hughes
  • Katrina Humphrey
  • John Kaiser
  • Raymond Irvin Lee*
  • Jack Mahuron*
  • Krista Martin (current President)
  • John W. Mead*
  • Stacy Lee Miller
  • Brent Minton
  • Bonita Purlee
  • Dean Ratts
  • Jeremy Risen
  • Myron Short*

*designates a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the historical society.

According to a recent historical society newsletter, information about the meeting and forms relating to the meeting are available at

Board candidates will have one minute to make presentations at the meeting prior to the official vote if they choose. 

The complete election process will be thoroughly explained at the meeting. 

Leading up to this weekend’s vote, one of the issues has been the rundown status of the John Hay House, which has been indefinitely closed to the public since earlier this year. 

The family of John Hay, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary who was born in Salem, has issued a plea in the form of a letter to members of the historical society regarding the special election.

To the Voting Members of the Washington County Historical Society

From Descendants of John Milton Hay

November 13, 2019

                  We, the family of descendants of Salem Indiana’s native son John Hay, have received notification of an alarming series of apparently long-standing and, inevitably, complex issues regarding the John Hay Center (JHC). Thus we are collectively addressing you in utmost urgency, knowing that the Washington County Historical Society, of which the JHC is a subsidiary, will be holding an extraordinary election for all eight positions of Director to your Board on the 23rd of this month.  From the very nature of such elections that are not occurring on a staggered basis, it is clear to us that they are extremely significant and that they could likely impact the tenor and perhaps the ultimate survival of parts or all of the Hay Center complex.

                  First, we were disappointed and disheartened to learn of the regrettable condition and the indefinite closing of the John Hay birthplace house since April of this year.  A home listed on the National Historic Register.  A home whose stewardship we assumed was the implied responsibility of the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS) when the Society purchased the landmark.  This type of degradation does not occur overnight and, when left uncorrected year after year, accelerates ever more rapidly.  Our dismay is heightened by learning of an abiding inclination, within this organization, to defer maintenance issues of the Center, or require a choice among them, due to insufficient funds being made available.      

In addition, we are informed of a sizeable Endowment Fund, one that was largely accumulated over the years through donations specifically intended for the perpetuation of the John Hay Center (JHC).  The JHC Foundation was created to be the fund-raising arm of the WCHS.  It appears that, in 2006, the entirety of this fund was deposited (under unclear circumstances) into the account of a different and newer entity titled the Washington County Community Foundation (WCCF).  It is being reported that the financial agreement between the JHC Foundation and the WCCF has been compromised in such a manner that access to its fund becomes unavailable to the Historical Society for its basic maintenance needs.  Through our varied long-standing familiarity and association with non-profit organizations across the country, we find the explanation of the current circumstances unfathomable and unacceptable, so that we call into question the legalities of restrictions imposed on the Historical Society.

       The John Hay Center complex, in its lovely setting with gorgeous old trees, is the brick-and-mortar visible essence of the WCHS.  The fine main structure that houses the Stevens Memorial Museum with its intriguingly rich collection admirably displayed, as well as the County genealogical and other document archives, and the Gift Shop; the carefully recreated Pioneer Village where historically appropriate activities and festivals are staged for young and old; and the small brick house where John M. Hay was born and lived during his first eight years.  All in all, it is an impressive gem in the handsome small town of Salem.  The parts enhance and need each other.  But we also venture to say that the John Hay birthplace house is the heart here because, as the very house in which he was born, it is obviously unique, and the boy who began his life here grew up to be a world-renowned American statesman who was not only involved in, but helped shape momentous historical events in the United States and in the world, the consequences of which, both positive and negative, are still relevant in global society today.  To be able physically to enter a historic place, like the small brick Hay family home, provides the direct contact that affects and can inspire children as well as adults like no other kind of experience.

        We sincerely hope that you the loyal Members of the Washington County Historical Society, connected through love and often heritage as well, will endeavor to be reliably informed on the impacting elements of the current strife and legal issues urgently facing your organization.  We trust that you will thus feel compelled to reclaim, reorganize, and restore your Society and the Center to their intended fine purpose, and perhaps even to new luster, through the impending election.

        We, the descendant families of John Hay, believe you have a sufficient number of Member candidates on the upcoming elections ballot who would fulfill the aspirations of all who truly have in their intent the welfare of the Society along with its structures and facilities.  Through extensive communications, we would confidently endorse the type of plans currently being proposed by the pro-tempore WCHS President Krista Martin, and the established John Hay Center Facilities Manager Jeremy Elliott, the state-appointed Washington County Historian.  We would further advocate an open line of communication between the genuinely concerned Members of this organization and these two central figures who are clearly invested in and devoted to the future design, promotion, and perpetuation of both your Society and the Center complex.  Both sound as though they are truly involved, on a daily basis, in efforts to maintain normalcy and sustain the relevance and survival of your organization.  Do reach out to them for additional insight, and to lend your support and perhaps your eventual participation in the type of beneficent efforts they are proposing.

         We earnestly wish your venerable historical organization the very best outcome in the critical November 23 election and hope every vote cast will be a clearly informed one.  Our families will be keenly interested in the outcome and, especially, in the course of direction for the beautiful John Hay Center.    

Signed by:

    Descendants of John Milton Hay

  • Stuart Symington, Jr. 
  • Julia Hay Symington
  • James Wadsworth Symington 
  • Jeremy Wadsworth Symington 
  • John Symington
  • Moyra Byrne
  • Charles M. Hay
  • Frances Coles Burroughs 
  • Elizabeth Putnam Burroughs 
  • Hannah Burroughs
  • John Taliaferro, Author of “All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt”
  • Susan Warren, Executive Director, The Fells Historic Estate and Gardens, Newbury NH


Those who cannot attend the meeting can still vote by proxy. To obtain a proxy form, contact the museum at 812.883.6495.

Proxy forms can be filled out and returned to the museum, or presented by the proxy and recorded at the election.