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Have you met ... Ben Collette

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History buff Ben Collette finds artifacts recapturing the past

By Kristin Beck

Ben Collette sees his future in Carrollton’s past.

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Though a native of Fairfield, Ohio, Collette, who works as a teller at River Valley Financial Bank’s Carrollton branch, is an avid history buff and has adopted the city’s heritage as his own.

Since moving to the area in 2007 to be closer to family, Collette, who is a nephew of Joe and Nancy Martin, has acquired dozens of Carrollton artifacts and has become very involved in the Port William Historical Society and Friends of Butler. He pores over listings on eBay.com and CraigsList.com, searching for anything related to Carrollton’s history. His local arch-nemesis appears to be Darrell Maines, the only other person, so far, who has outbid him online for Carrollton memorabilia, Collette said.

Still, Collette has photo albums filling up with postcards purchased online that feature Carroll County-area scenes and events; his shelves are lined with glass bottles from Carrollton’s Coca-Cola bottling plant and bottles from all but one of the local dairies, as well as glass ashtrays advertising local tobacco warehouses.

He has an impressive collection of original documents, including papers bearing the elegant signature of Percival Pierce Butler – one of Port William’s first settlers and the state’s first adjutant general.

“I’ve always enjoyed collecting local history,” Collette said, as he displayed some of his favorite pieces. “History is one of those things you can come across every day.”

He credits his seventh-grade teacher, Mr. McKelly, for instilling in him a love for history. “He was an amazing history teacher.”

And he attributes his fascination for antique furniture to a huge chest of drawers from the 1800s that was in his room as he grew up. That piece now adorns a room in the house on Martin Road that he shares with his cousin, Anna. Antique chairs are scattered throughout the house.

“I had a bad habit of buying chairs at one time,” he said.

Collette, 25, started collecting artifacts when he was about 13 years old, when most boys are collecting baseball cards. “I found that by actually saving my allowance, I could buy some neat things,” he said.

In a cabinet, Collette displays some of his earlier acquisitions – a silver spoon with his surname engraved on it that he found at an antique shop when he was a college student in Berea, as well as silver-and-glass vanity pieces and dozens of other trinkets.

The cabinet also houses items that may not be valuable in monetary terms, but are priceless to him: a bent metal fork that a relative gave him – it was the preferred utensil of his great-great-grandmother; a coal-miner’s hard hat worn by his grandfather who was a miner in Eastern Kentucky.

Most recently, at an auction this spring, he bought dozens of items that came from the Howe home on Third Street. His acquisitions include boxes of documents from John Howe’s dry goods business in Cincinnati, personal letters and post cards, and old photos of the store and of the house on Third Street. One of those photos of the house appears to have been taken before the two huge pinetrees that now dominate the property were planted.

Eventually, Collette wants to curate his own museum featuring his Carrollton collection. He said he’d thought about locating the museum downtown, but now his goal is – someday – to buy the old Howe home, refurbish it and live upstairs while curating a museum on the first floor.

In the meantime, Collette keeps busy with his job and his new business – he recently acquired the car wash on Hwy. 227 across from Dollar General.

And he is working hard to help generate more interest in the local historical society. This year, he is in charge of the society’s twice-annual Heritage Day – the next installment of which is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, on the lawn of the Masterson House on U.S. 42 East.