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Retired shoe store owner starts his own museum

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 15, 2014 at 11:10 am •  Published: June 15, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — Paul Thomas has channeled his love of his hometown and of history into creating a unique museum in downtown Elkhart.

The Time Was historical museum is filled with Thomas' memorabilia of 90-plus years in Elkhart and donated artifacts dating back to the early-to-mid-nineteenth century.

Thomas was born in Goshen on Oct. 23, 1923, but moved to Elkhart six months later, and has never left.

Thomas was in the shoe business for nearly 50 years and ran his own store in downtown Elkhart before selling it to his son in 1988. It was not long before he began work on his next project above the now-vacant shoe store.

"I went home and told my wife that I was going to retire and sell the store. She said, 'You've never been home for lunch, and you've never been home on Saturday, and you're not going to start now,'" Thomas told the South Bend Tribune (

Thus Thomas opened the Time Was museum on Feb. 1, 1988. It fills a seven-room apartment on the second floor of Thomas' Main Street building.

Thomas said he never was a collector, but as a lifelong laborer on Main Street, felt equipped to model his hands-on museum in a way that resembled its business pattern.

Time Was consists of seven rooms: Thomas' office; a room full of antique books and atlases; a "geneology room" with over a century's worth of Elkhart school yearbooks, city directories and telephone books; a room featuring old Elkhart restaurants and menus; a room of Elkhart newspaper extras dating back to 1868; a room showcasing vintage clothing, and a bathroom.

Admission to Time Was is free. Thomas maintained that a walk-through of his museum is a simple free-will offering.

Although the museum receives no outside funding to operate, Thomas approximated that 90 percent of materials displayed at Time Was are donated by Elkhart residents and businesses.

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