The Great Barrington Historical Society’s 2021 Annual Report came out a few months ago, and included progress in meeting the Society’s goals in the areas of Programs, Archives, Town Museum reconstruction, and Fundraising. For those of you who haven’t seen it, highlights follow . .
Archives (by our hardworking volunteer Archivist Gary Leveille):
One of the ongoing challenges of the Society’s mission is to organize and catalog the 75,000+ artifacts, documents, manuscripts, textiles, and photographs in our archives on the second floor of the Ramsdell Library. Covid-19 restrictions have severely limited the work done there because our access to the archives has been curtailed. While those efforts have been put on hold, work continues on donations brought to our Headquarters, and additional archives stored on the second floor of the Wheeler farmhouse.
Financial challenges have also limited our efforts because nearly all our fundraising goes toward restoring and maintaining our Town Museum at the Wheeler Farmstead, as well as paying our monthly mortgage. However, the Historical Society continues to collaborate with the Town’s Historical Commission, which is a Town board with a budget! An exciting new history book will soon be published–with profits going to the Society. You’ll hear more about this in the coming months.
Programs (which are developed and executed by our amazing Executive Director
Along with maintaining the permanent Museum displays, in 2021 the GBHS developed two rotating exhibits. The first was Old Country Barns, with many thanks to Doug Logan for his wonderful handcrafted American Barn models, to Doreen Atwood for her beautiful BarnGBHS welcome window to our 2020 Christmas exhibit Quilts display, and to Stephen Donaldson for his Barns of the Berkshires photographs.
The second, An Old-Fashioned Christmas, was even bigger than last year’s and drew visitors from far and near, with a special thank you to Gary Leveille for his excellent letterabout that exhibit published in the Berkshire Eagle. In addition, our Museum was the first location in town to be awarded the Great Barrington S.A.F.E. designation for its required safety, cleaning, and social distancing protocols.
Town Museum, including farmhouse and Dutch Wagon House
The Wheeler Farmstead, dating back to the early 1700’s, has earned designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, after the Society saved it from demolition in 2007. Since then, the GBHS has reduced the original $250,000 mortgage to $38,000. Our prime focus has been the main house where the four first-floor rooms are restored and serve as the Museum display rooms you see today. Last summer the entire exterior was painted, along with some needed house maintenance repair work. In recent years we lost two outstanding trees on the property: a historic tulip tree and a mature sugar maple. The Society is making a serious effort to replace them and add more whenever possible.
Work to finish the Dutch Wagon House and privy has begun in earnest thanks to a sizable Town Community Preservation Act grant. Future work in the summer kitchen and repairs to the large barn and wooden silo roof were also included in the grant. The Society is investigating the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof of the large barn to ease our upcoming electrical burden when the Wagon House comes “on-line.” Once the HVAC units are installed, we expect that building to be the site of meetings as well as art exhibits, e.g., the newly-donated picture accompanying this article on the home page. Hopefully the completion date for all this work and a public open house will happen this fall.
As a nonprofit, the Society is totally dependant upon the generosity of the community. The funds raised in our Annual Membership Appeal help to cover our yearly operating expenses, but do not generate the monies necessary for major improvement projects. Additional income sources are donations collected throughout the year from our programs, Museum visitors, book sales, eBay sales, and various contributors. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, all programs and our Annual Antique Show and Flea Market (and Silent Auction) were cancelled. As a result, no income was generated.
Two large donations helped to compensate for some of this loss. We want to thank Abby Schroeder, who donated her 1977 Cadillac Biarritz to the GBHS to sell. We’re also thankful to the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust for awarding the Society a $10,000 grant to help with some of our operating expenses due to the pandemic. We continue to look for creative ways to raise funds, including the use of our property. The Historical Society’s future depends upon our ability to increase the number of volunteers, funding sources, partnerships with other organizations, and the townspeople’s shared belief in the value of this Town Museum.
Financials are below: