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Work on Wistariahurst Carriage House begins

Date: 4/7/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The Carriage House at the Wistariahurst Museum has seen many roles. When first built it housed horses and carriages. Later, it was transformed into a garage. It has since served as a museum, classroom and storage facility. Now, the building will be renovated for its new part in telling the story of the development of one of this country's first planned industrial centers.

While Museum Director Melissa Boiselle formally announced the more than $1 million Carriage House renovation project on Wednesday, workers were already busy with the process.

Boiselle said the improvements have been "a long time coming" and will be completed during the 50th anniversary of the use of the former home of the Skinner family as a museum.

"What better way to celebrate the museum than to showcase our restoration efforts at the site," Boiselle said.

The renovations are expected to be completed by this fall and include:

updating utility services to the building

replacing sections of rotting foundation sills

repairing deteriorated section of foundation wall

replacing aged framing member to strengthen building

repairing slate roof

restoring the exterior of the building to the look of a carriage house

improving handicap access

updating the interior to create a changing exhibit space for historical exhibits

creating a reading area for public research of archival collections

creating a gift shop area

updating the second floor for a climate controlled archive and collection storage area

remodeling gardeners meeting space

modifying grade to improve drainage

installing a new storm water run-off control system

Boiselle said over the past five years the number of visitors to the museum have increased through the programming offered there. The renovation of the Carriage House offers "a huge potential for the community and us" to attract even greater numbers of people, she added.

The project is being funded by grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the United Bank Foundation and MassDevelopment.

While Boiselle thanked Mayor Michael Sullivan, the Holyoke City Council and the city's legislative delegation for their support and help, Sullivan thanks Boiselle for her patience during the time in which the funding was arranged.

Holyoke Community College (HCC) President William Messner, who is also a board member of the Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst group, said the next goal is to raise $10,000 to have the exterior of the museum painted.

To help raise that amount, Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst is sponsoring a gala honoring the museum s 50th anniversary on April 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. The gala will feature food created by the HCC culinary arts program, music by the Jeremy Milligan Jazz Trio and a cash bar.

There will also be a historical exhibition titled "Revealing the Skinner Family" and a silent auction.

Tickets are $25 in advance at $35 at the door.

For more information call the museum at 322-5660 or go to All proceeds directly benefit the museum.