Published: July 23, 2002
Sorry, We’re Closed:
By Noreen Gillespie, Associated Press Writer
KENT, CONN. (AP) — The historic site was only closed for a few short hours, but director Barbara Russ returned to find an angry note tacked on the door of the Sloane-Stanley and Kent Furnace Museum Wednesday night.
“I’m very disappointed,” the note read, explaining that the visitor had traveled by car from Washington [Conn.] to purchase a print at the gift shop. “I had my checkbook in hand.”
Russ can only imagine the disappointment that will be felt when the site shuts its doors for good in September. The museum receives about 5,000 visits each year, she said.
Hit with a $537,000 budget cut from the state, the Connecticut Historical Commission has decided to close four museums because it can no longer fund the 12 employees who work at the properties.
Sloane-Stanley Museum and Kent Furnace in Kent, the Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine in East Granby, the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury and the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford all will close.
“They feel like children of mine,” commission director Jack Shanahan said Thursday. “This is like saying, ‘Which of your children do you want to give up?” The commission had the option of closing the museums or shutting down its preservation office, Shanahan said.
The group decided to focus on preserving historic sites around Connecticut, he said. They currently have more than 2,000 applications for preservation projects, he said.
Collectively, curators and directors estimate the museums host up to 31,000 visitors per year, and bring in $80,000 of direct profit.
The legislature may consider restoring the funds during the August budget implementation session. Museum curators and directors are holding onto the implementation session as their only hope for survival.
When the cuts were made, it was the intention of legislators to restore the $537,000 taken from the commission, said Governor John G. Rowland’s spokesman Chris Cooper.
“We’re holding onto that as our glimmer of hope that this will work itself out,” said Kazimiera Kozlowski, curator at the Prudence Crandall Museum, which honors the first school for black women in New England.
State Senator Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said that he would have rather seen the impact spread out over the whole commission, not just on the museums.
“I think very few legislators had a complete understanding of the details with respect to this particular reduction,” Roraback said.
Legislators discussed taking the museums out of the commission’s jurisdiction and putting them under different leadership, but never intended to close them, said House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, who visited the Henry Whitfield Museum Thursday.
“The question had always been putting them under a different jurisdiction. Never was there even a suggestion that they would no longer be in existence,” Lyons said.
Riley said he will pursue leasing the site in East Granby to the Friends of New-Gate Prison, a private organization, to keep the doors open.
But private ownership is not an option for the other three museums, curators and directors said.
Because the state owns the buildings and will own them even if they shut their doors, the state must pay for upkeep.
“The state can’t just throw the keys on the table and walk away,” said Michael McBride, curator of the Henry Whitfield Museum. “The state has a responsibility.”
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