This article originally ran in the Cleveland Daily Banner on February 2, 2017
Cleveland architect Doug Caywood and his wife, Jill, had a vision more than a decade ago. It faded for a period of time, but now it’s back, brighter than ever.
A brief venture to the children’s Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, led the couple to consider the prospects of a biblical-themed children’s museum in Cleveland.
Their middle son, a baby at the time, was a patient at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital in 2005. “While we were there, they gave us complimentary tickets to the Creative Discovery Museum,” said Caywood. “We were amazed by our 8-year-old’s excitement when we visited.”
Caywood said he and his wife wondered if there was a children’s museum anywhere which catered to the Bible, and Bible stories.
“I went online and discovered there was nothing anywhere with that type of theme,” he said.
The Caywoods formed a planning team among friends and associates, and obtained a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2005. This launched a drive to construct a Christian Discovery Museum here in Cleveland — focusing on children.
Since then, there has been some downtime. Caywood returned to college to work on an advanced degree, he was busy as an architect, and he and his wife have been raising their family of three sons. But, the dream of a children’s Bible museum has remained with them and the planning team.
Joining them on the team are Tara Waldrop, Lettie Kirkpatrick Burress, Kathryn Ervin, Rita Ross, Susan Ledford, Rebecca Fowler, and Robert Thompson.
The Caywoods and team members are ready to move ahead with plans for the proposed Christian Discovery Museum. Over the past decade they have watched as similar projects have been planned, and progressed to fruition.
They have studied these projects, and fine-turned prospects for the children’s museum here.
One thing they have done is change the name for the proposed local museum. The new, tentative name is “Trek Thru Truth Museum.”
Caywood said they have studied and watched as the Creation Museum was built in Petersburg, Ky., and they’re now keeping up with the completion of The Bible Museum in Washington, D.C.
“The Creation Museum focuses on creation and evolution, but it gives us some ideas about what we can do with our project,” said Caywood.
The Bible Museum in Washington, expected to open this year, is a $400 million facility being built by the founder of Hobby Lobby. It has to do with the many Bibles in the world, and their publication.
The Caywoods and their team have come up with a fundraising plan to try to come up with the $20 million needed for the Trek Thru Truth Museum over the next five years.
They have already approached local churches and other organizations and individuals, obtaining pledges and in-kind donations totaling $193,000 in preliminary or seed money. “This is only 1 percent of what we need for the $20 million project,” emphasized Caywood.
This fundraising goal formed by the planning team is to have 16,000 individuals, families, churches, organizations, and businesses embrace on the project. “With 100,000 residents in Bradley County, and 1.3 million within a three-county radius, we feel this is feasible,” said Caywood. At least one plan proposed that each donor could contribute $5 per week for five years, to meet the $20 million goal.
He added that the target area for appeal of the museum is four to five hours out, a radius encompassing Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta and Charlotte.
Step 1 in the timeline for the museum would be fundraising. During the coming year, Caywood also plans the formation of a capital outlay board of directors (12 to 15 people), with hopes they will purchase a property site sometime in the near future.
He said the planning team, and/or directors, will be looking at several locations for the museum in the general Cleveland area. “We feel it would be better to be located along Interstate 75, with easy access to the local community,” Caywood said. He added there would be a visual advantage to such a location. The structure is expected to be 60,000 to 75,000 square feet and they will be looking for a minimum of 15 to 16 acres.
He said they also feel it will be good if there is an opportunity to have outside exhibits and presentations.
In the meantime, Caywood and his team are talking to churches, individuals, civic clubs, and other organizations about the museum proposal.
“Cleveland can become the home to a facility where our children will have access to exciting visuals, art, music and more,” he said. “It would be a permanent facility that will tell more than 52 Bible stories from Genesis to Revelation, and will provide education on various topics.”
Caywood serves as president of Trek Thru Truth, adding that “The others on the team have been instrumental in developing this vision.” Caywood said they hope the people of the Cleveland community will support this proposed ministry tool for the future of the community’s children.
“This proposed museum will tell the stories of the Bible through interactive exhibits, activities, music and murals,” he continued.
“Cleveland has the opportunity to be the home of a $20 million facility for children, focusing on the Bible,” emphasized the project’s leader. “Our team has developed a comprehensive business plan, exhibit descriptions, initial graphic images for museum storytellers, and preliminary design concepts for the facility,” Caywood added.
Although no specific exhibits have been designed, Jonathan Martin Creative Designs in Nashville, which is working with several other museums on various projects, has loaned Caywood’s team some examples of biblical-based exhibits.
The team has also come up with an exhibition concept, based on a 52-week ministry for children.
The themes include Creation-Adam and Eve; Noah’s Ark; Tower of Babel; and other passages from the Bible.
Examples of temporary exhibits being considered should generate interest for the community’s children. These proposals include Professions of the Bible; Music in the Bible; Bugs in the Bible; Transportation in the Bible; Sports in the Bible; Animals in the Bible; and Armies/Wars in the Bible.
The Caywoods, their planning team and future board members have a massive challenge before them. If the goals can be reached, and the museum built, it would be a tremendous asset for the citizens (and children) of Cleveland and Bradley County.
Caywood is excited by the prospect, and the fact the project is once again moving forward.
“I feel God is using my architectural profession with Lewis Group Architects, and my Master of Arts in teaching, to culminate in the design of a museum building and exhibits that will educate our children on 52 stories of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation,” he said.