Photo courtesy of Tony Nivens.
Tony Nivens, left, stands outside of the Weldon Store with lifelong Chelsea resident Ray Shirley. A builder and relocater of homes, Shirley has previously offered to help move historical buildings in Chelsea.
When the Weldon Store was torn down from its place on the corner of County 39 and County 47, some saw it as a loss of history; others saw it as the removal of an eyesore. Tony Nivens, however, saw it as a call to action.
“The challenge that hit me was, ‘If you love it so much, why didn't you do something to save it?’” Nivens said, who runs the Chelsea Then and Now Facebook page. “That was when I decided, since I had a bit of voice, maybe I should use it to help.”
Nivens had signed the petition started by Judy Isbell Galamore, the great-granddaughter of Weldon Store’s original owner, and he had shared photos that showed the building’s “rustic beauty,” but Nivens said he feels like he did not do enough.
“I feel I must apologize to Chelsea,” he said. “My vision was not large enough, soon enough. I knew something had to be done with the building — I wished it could be used closer [to its original location], maybe as a museum. But I didn’t actually do anything.”
The building was sort of a dividing line in Chelsea, Nivens said, and not just between lifelong and newer Chelsea residents.
“A lot of people either new or old thought it was an eyesore,” Nivens said. “And a lot of people, both new and old, thought it was a beautiful symbol of a much simpler time in our lives. Whether they were new or not, it spoke to them.”
As someone in support of preserving history and still unsure of how to help, Nivens took steps toward establishing the Chelsea Historical Society — a group he said he hopes can help “enhance, preserve and share other Chelsea history.”
A few historical buildings remain in the old “downtown” Chelsea, Nivens said, and he wants to work with their owners to repair buildings and advocate for them. The group was incorporated in March and hopes to receive its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status before the end of the year. Once they are a nonprofit, they will be able to give tax-free receipts to all donors, but for now they are working to collect money through art that celebrates Chelsea history.
The next steps include establishing a steering committee, holding the first official meeting and electing officers. From there, Nivens said he hopes to work with the city of Chelsea to meet the Chelsea Historical Society’s main goals. Councilman Cody Sumners already has volunteered to act as a liaison with the historical society.
Sumners, who grew up in Chelsea, said he wanted to serve as liason to help the city work as a partner with the historical society.
“Just to be able to have that immediate contact with the city and the historical society, I think that will help keep us all working together,” Sumners said.
Nivens also sat down with Mayor Tony Picklesimer to discuss how the historical society and city can work together.
“We want to feel like we’re a part of what the city is doing, and the city is also on board with what we’re doing. We don’t want to be at odds,” Nivens said, adding that while the council and business owners look toward the future, they should be inspired by history. “I think a good balance, of looking at the past, at what made Chelsea so beautiful, should be a part of that conversation.”
Picklesimer has asked for the historical society to help with the Chelsea Museum, keeping it staffed once it moves from City Hall to the Crane House, where the Chelsea Library is currently located, Nivens said.
“It’s kind of a put-up or shut-up time,” Nivens said. “If we can’t [get enough people], then we’ve proven that Chelsea history is irrelevant. And I don’t think that’s the case.”
Staffing, however, is not something Nivens foresees being an issue. The historical society already has received community support through the Chelsea Then and Now Facebook page, as well as at community events they have attended. As plans progress, Nivens hopes to pull in volunteers from old and new areas of Chelsea. For new residents, Nivens said he hopes a history of community draws them in.
“A lot of what Chelsea has been is because of the community atmosphere, and if that’s what you like — the beauty of what makes Chelsea, Chelsea, we’d love for you to be part of the Chelsea Historical Society,” Nivens said.
For more information, email Nivens at CheleaALHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.