Devou Home and the Behringer-Crawford Museum
In 1845, James Taylor Eubank purchased a portion of what today encompasses Devou Park. Shortly thereafter, he began constructing a substantial brick Federal Style farmhouse on the property. In 1860s, the home was purchased by William P. Devou.
The home was architecturally transformed by the Devou Family. Beginning in the 1880s, a stone addition was constructed on the front of the building. Also, a large wooden veranda was added to the back of the home. The Devou Family called the home “Hillcrest,” because of its location high on a knob.
The Devou Family donated their property to the City of Covington for use as a park in 1910. At this time, Charles P. Devou reserved the right to live in the home until his death. Charles held the position of superintendent of the park from 1911 until shortly before his death in 1922.
The home continued to be occupied by various families until 1943. In that year, a fire destroyed much of the home’s roof and the Victoria verandas. The home was not completely repaired until 1948, when a new roof was constructed (the verandas were not re-built at this time).
In 1949, the collection of William Behringer was donated to the City of Covington for use in a museum. Behringer (1884-1948) was a native of West Covington. Through extensive travel, he amassed a large collection of curiosities and memorabilia. A large portion of the collection consisted of mounted animal specimens. Covington officials decided at this time to create a museum in the Devou home to house the collection. The museum was officially named the William Behringer Memorial Museum and began operation on July 4, 1950. On the next day, the old Greenline streetcar “Kentucky” was delivered to the ground following its last run.
The first curator of the museum was Ellis Crawford (1905-1972). Crawford labored to expand the museum’s collection. Crawford, an archaeologist, acquired many specimens at Big Bone Lick in Boone County for the museum. It was during Crawford’s administration that the museum began preserving the history of the Northern Kentucky region. At the time of Crawford’s retirement in 1970, the City of Covington officially changed the name of the museum to the Behringer-Crawford Museum.
Ray Tanner became the curator of the museum in 1972. The economic slump of the 1970’s hit the museum hard. In 1978, the Covington City Commission eliminated the position of curator. The old Devou house needed a number of costly upgrades to make the building safe for public use.
In 1979, the first board of trustees was appointed by the city. The board toured the deteriorating house and studied a report compiled by Greg Harper, a local University of Cincinnati Museum Science major. The first board members were: Mike Averdick, associate Director of the Kenton County Public Library; Melinda Auge, an interior designer; Dr. Daniel Beatie, Associate Professor of History at Thomas More College; Brady Black, former Editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer; Ann Giroux, wife of the Thomas More College president; Dr. Raymond Singh, Associate Professor of Geology at Northern Kentucky University; Betty Shinkle, of the Baker Hunt Foundation and Charles Volpenheim, Covington Parks and Recreation Director.
One of the first actions of the new board was to name Greg Harper as the director of the museum. Under Harper’s guidance, the Behringer-Crawford Museum took on new life. Programs for children and adults were created and a number of unique activities were sponsored. One of the most popular programs was a series of archaeological digs for children.
The Devou Home was restored in the 1980s. Work included the reconstruction of the 1880s verandas and a replacement roof. The restoration plans were designed by architect William C. Hub. Funding for the project was provided by the William P. Devou Trust, the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, the United States Department of Energy and several other local sources.
Museum exhibits and programs have continued to expand under the leadership of the current director, Laurie Risch, who assumed this position in 1993. In 2001, work began on a major addition to the museum complex. The project, costing $2.6 million, doubled the size of the museum’s exhibit space, provided an indoor space for the Kentucky streetcar and created a permanent archival storage area.
Behringer-Crawford Museum News/Courier, Summer 1983, William P. Devou House, Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory Form (Kenton Co. Public Library Local History File), Kentucky Times-Star, September 9, 1949, p. 1a; Kentucky Post, November 10, 1978, p. 11k, September 15, 1979, November 26, 1979, p. 4k; Crawford, Ellis C. Paper Read to the Christopher Gist Historical Society, July 28, 1953, Papers of the Christopher Gist Historical Society, Vol. 5, pp. 9-13.