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Wistariahurst Carriage House begins new life

Date: 11/3/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The building that once housed the horses, carriages and later automobiles of the Skinner family has entered a new phase with the completion of $1 million of renovations.

The carriage house at the Wistariahurst Museum was re-opened last Thursday and Museum Director Melissa Boiselle thanked the collaboration of supporters and funders to make the project a reality. Funding came from the City of Holyoke, United Bank Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The project was both on schedule and on budget, she noted.

Holyoke Community College President William Messner, also a member of the non-profit Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst Inc., said that although the city has challenges, it is "incredibly rich in history, culture and diversity" and the carriage house project illustrates a commitment the city has to itself.

One of the prime uses for the building will be as a new archives for the museum's collection. Boiselle called the new archive space "a real savior to these rich pieces of history."

The carriage house was originally constructed about 1880. It was first used as a barn and stable, but a two-story structure was added to the Beech Street side of the building. In 1911, a single story was added to house the new Skinner family automobile. In the 1980s, a single story shed roofed vestibule had been built over the carriage house doors.

The first floor of the carriage house has a kitchen area and a large exhibit room as well as an area that can be used as a mini-theater. The museum's friends group has an area that can be used as a gift shop, which Boiselle hopes will be open for the holidays.

Boiselle explained the archives would be moved from the Skinner mansion to the second floor of the carriage house during November and December. Researchers will be able to come to the carriage house, go through the museum's database and request to see artifacts that will be brought down to them.

Noting the relatively low ceiling of the second floor, Boiselle explained that some space was lost by maintaining the height of ceilings on the first floor and coping with how the building had settled.

The next project for the museum would be the painting of the mansion, Messner said. He announced the group was nearing its goal of raising $100,000 and currently seeking the final $15,000. Sherwin Williams has pledged to donate the paint. Online donations through PayPal can be made by logging on to