DECATUR – A Victorian masterpiece built on College Hill for a local manufacturer in 1884 quickly caught the eye of a young Southerner and traveling salesman named Augustus Eugene Staley.
Well-kept and attractive, with a groom to care for the stable and carriages, the house represented the ideal home to him.
“It was the finest I had ever seen,” Staley recalled in 1924. “I would stop and admire it and wonder if I would ever have the chance to own a home like it.”
By coincidence, he did buy the house in 1913, the year after he reopened a defunct starch plant in Decatur as A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. to begin making the cornstarch he'd been selling out of Baltimore since 1898.
Owned by the family for 40 years, the former Staley Mansion is back in the family's hands and begins a new chapter next weekend as the Staley Museum.
The focus is A.E. Staley Sr., his company and his legacy, personal and professional.
Julie Staley, president of the museum board and wife of Mark Staley, the treasurer, said they've seen the value of preserving family history from the community response to the Hieronymus Mueller Museum, opened 20 years ago and relocated in 2005 to 420 W. Eldorado St.
“When the opportunity came to purchase the Staley Mansion just a block away, we thought it would be the perfect setting to bring the story of A.E. Staley to life,” she said.
Mark Staley's brother, Grant Staley, is vice president/secretary of the board.
The brothers are great-grandsons of Hieronymous Mueller and A.E. Staley Sr. through the 1926 marriage of their paternal grandparents, Lenore Mueller and A.E. Staley Jr.
The family didn't have to look far to find the right staff to run the Staley Museum. Director Laura Jahr is also assistant director of the Mueller Museum, and assistant director Mike Deatherage is also the Mueller director.
Nor did they need to do much to the house itself, as previous owners had done a fine job converting it back from apartments to a single-family residence.
“We're not intending to be a period home,” Jahr said. “We're a museum that happens to be in the family home. The intention is to tell stories about the family, the company and the community.”
For example, one of the first portraits of A.E. Staley Sr. you see upon entering is on loan from the Masonic Temple. It was painted by Shelbyville artist Robert Root to honor Staley, a Mason, for his contributions to the construction of the temple's 1929 building.
Other rooms on the south side of the main floor are devoted to Staley's family and to the Decatur Staleys football team and other athletics, but the sun porch explores the history of A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. and includes exhibits and information about Tate & Lyle as well.
Macon County Master Gardeners have also spruced up the landscape as the time draws near for the Staley Museum to open.
“It's a local history museum, a work in progress and an American Dream story,” Jahr said. “Who doesn't like American Dream stories?”