DAYTON, Ky. (AP) — Browse a history museum in the small city of Dayton and you'd expect to find yellowed newspaper clippings of big events, black-and-white photographs of buildings and documents detailing major floods.
But what about a pair of white, ankle-high baby shoes from the old Rifkin Shoes in Dayton? Or a painted whiskey decanter shaped like a firefighter with the booze still inside?
From the anticipated historical items to the surprising, these are just a smattering of treasures tucked inside the Tharp Dayton Heritage Museum that recently opened.
The man behind the museum is Dayton town historian Charlie Tharp. Now 88 and a Fort Thomas resident, Tharp was 1 year old when his family moved to Dayton and has never abandoned the city where he grew up.
"He fell in love with the city at age 5," said Tina Neyer, volunteer archivist for the new museum.
Tharp retired from his business, W.C. Tharp & Son Real Estate and Insurance, in Dayton in 2012. Inside those walls are countless items he's collected since about 1950. His keen interest in the city inspired him to collect memorabilia, all the Dayton records he could get his hands on and scores of historical odds and ends - things like old tools from a work site and shiny metal toy fire engines.
"If you can't find it here, you're not going to find it," Tharp said recently, looking around his old office as a worker pounded on a shelf for the museum.
Tharp brought in more items, including all the newspaper clippings about Dayton he could find for the year 2000, carefully bound. A photo from 1891 of the first electric streetcar in Dayton, bound records of the Dayton Woman's Club and Dayton-related trinkets galore are among things visitors will see at the museum's grand opening.
Elmer Perry, a museum board volunteer, said people who love Dayton or history won't be disappointed.
Perry has known Tharp for years and reveres the local historian for his wealth of detailed knowledge of Dayton's history. He also likes to tease a little about Tharp's fascinating collection.
"The only thing he threw away was burnt matches and used toothpicks," Perry says, laughing.
The city of Dayton purchased Tharp's building at 718 Sixth Ave. last year for $25,000, said Dayton Main Street Director Michael Giffen.
Tharp decided to leave his collection with the building, and the concept of making the site a museum was solidified to Tharp's relief.
"I was afraid it would all be trash," he said.
Not a chance, said Giffen: "This project is great for the city because we have been able to preserve a massive collection of information that helps identify who we are as a city."
Giffen had no trouble forming a board this spring to work on building improvements, inventory the collection and create a plan for the museum. Tharp serves on the museum board along with Neyer of Newport, Perry of Dayton, Vera Stuck of Cold Spring, and Jane Hebel and Shirley Aiken of Dayton. All have lived in Dayton at some point and all are volunteer board members.
Although the Tharp building had alterations over the years that "modernized" it, its facade will be restored to its historic double-window storefront.
Dayton City Council has approved using $9,000 to $10,000 in previously existing facade improvement grant money to provide the restoration, Giffen said. The museum board had hoped to get the work done before its opening, but contractors simply were not available. Work is expected to begin within a few weeks.
For now, the museum will likely be open a couple times a month, Giffen said, as the board figures out its demand. He promises special openings for schoolchildren, should teachers from Dayton schools want to bring their students, and for civic groups.
Tharp is pleased his collection is about to be shared, probably for generations to come.
"I collected it for 60-some years," he said. "This is my town."