Unless a new funding scheme can be devised, and quickly, what is considered to be the nation’s best collection of Hudson automobiles seems destined to be dispersed at auction.
Hostetler’s Hudson Collection is the result of the late Eldon Hostetler’s life-long passion for Hudsons, a passion that dated to the 1930s when a neighbor driving a Hudson Terraplane sedan arrived to help Hostetler’s father with the wheat harvest.
As soon as he had his driver’s license, Hostetler bought a used ’38 Hudson and drove Hudsons until 1954, when the company merged with Nash to become American Motors. Eventually, Hustetler’s Hudson collection grew to nearly 50 vehicles, including unique versions and racing cars, which filled a 60,000-square-foot museum in the Shipshewana Town Center in northern Indiana. He also loaned or donated several Hudsons to other automotive museums.
Hostetler died last year and his widow, Esta, died May 28. Almost immediately, there was an effort to close the museum, and a reaction that led to news coverage by a television station in nearby South Bend, Indiana. WNDU reported that a change in ownership of the building that houses the museum, and the loss of $150,000 in annual support from the county’s innkeeper tax, meant the museum would close and the cars sold at auction.
The then city manager told the station that the museum could not survive on annual admission revenue of less than $25,000. The car collection has been appraised at more than $4 million, the station reported.
But the news of a possible closing surprised some local business leaders, said Eldon “JR” Hostetler Jr., who sits on the museum’s board of directors. That board also includes members of the Shipshewana town council.
“I’m on the museum board,” Hostetler Jr. said, “but if they outvote me, there’s not much I can do.”
“The original (town) council was on board and helped get it going,” he said, adding that many city leaders may not be as enthused about the museum. “They’ve already stated that they don’t want to be in the museum business.”
Though a small community of less than 1,000 residents, Shipshewana has built a strong tourist trade based on Amish and Mennonite heritage, its crafts, furniture, restaurants, theater, flea markets, horse-drawn carriages and other attractions, including the Hudson museum.
Shipshewana’s new town manager, Bob Shanahan, who has been in that position for only a couple of weeks, said that while the museum board controls the cars, any changes in financing of the museum would need approval from the town council.
He also said the council granted the museum board 30 days to devise a new funding method, and might be willing to extend that deadline.
“There was no motion. No second. No vote taken,” he said of the council’s discussion of the museum’s future.
“Some interested folks came and asked if they could put forward some proposals instead of liquidating. The town president was in agreement and allowed an extension before any vote was taken,” Shanahan said.
The next museum board meeting is scheduled for July 27, the same day as the next town council meeting. The museum board will meet first, with whatever it decides presented later that day to the town council for its consideration.