Little museum on verge of fading into history

The Hamburg Historical Museum will close unless thousands of dollars are identified to keep the 160-plus-year-old building open.
AP Wire
Apr 27, 2014

The museum, owned and operated by the Hamburg Historical Society, can no longer sustain about $20,000 in annual utility and insurance costs. Costly heating bills this winter drained much of the museum's fund balance, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.

The Historical Society's board initially set June 1 as a closing date unless a new funding agreement is reached. The Township Board of Trustees on April 15 agreed to contribute $1,000 to keep the museum running until September. If the museum is closed, the society intends to return local artifacts to their owners.

Making matters worse, Suzanne Hines, the museum's stalwart director, is resigning due to health concerns.

The society hopes Hamburg Township will help pay the annual utility costs and an estimated $40,000 for a new roof. It also wants the township to hire a curator.

Township officials, hesitant to invest in the old building, hope to sell the property and move the museum's treasures into the township's Merrill Road library.

Relocating the museum's inventory would detract from the small village area, said Pat DeWolf, whose family history in Hamburg dates back to the Civil War.

"This solution they have of helping us by not helping us keep the building is not what I'm in favor of. We need some help with the township, and to me, their only solution is to sell the building outright probably as is," DeWolf said.

"It's just all that history. I don't think they understand how important it is," she added.

DeWolf said the best outcome would be for the township to reclaim the building and lease it to the society. That way, she said, the building could fall under the township's insurance policy to cover future repairs.

The township board has created a two-trustee subcommittee to explore options for the museum.

The museum building was originally a Methodist church in the mid-1800s. It later housed township offices and the local library. The Hamburg library relocated to its Merrill Road location in 2001.

The museum opened 10 years ago, and the building was deeded to the Historical Society by the township two years ago.

The hope in transferring the deed was for the society to win grants to replace the roof, but the fundraising effort fell short. Small events raise some funds, but not enough to keep the operation going.

Under the deed agreement, the building reverts to the township if the society can no longer maintain it.

The library, in agreeing to move to Merrill Road, insisted that it receive the first $200,000 in proceeds if the building was sold. The library invested in major repairs of the building before moving to its current location.

The building is probably worth about $120,000, which could be used for space to store historical collections in the library, Township Supervisor Pat Hohl said.

Hohl said a sale and partnership with the library would be the best outcome for the museum. He said the museum's deteriorating roof will eventually make the building unsafe unless there are major repairs.

The Stone Street property could be a prime spot for residential or small-scale commercial use, he added.

"I think that the township board has displayed its sincere interest in maintaining the building in deeding it to the Historical Society, but we have to be very careful of making emotional decisions with no sound financial reason to do so," Hohl said.

"I would like for the museum to have a home in Hamburg," he added.

Museum volunteer Wayne Burkhardt said a roof leak needs to be identified and repaired to keep operating as normal. He said more expensive roof repairs could wait if the leak were repaired.

Burkhardt said the best outcome would be a partnership with the township to keep the museum open.

He said the museum and its events are invaluable to the community, which has a rich history as a rail hub and home for Ann Arbor commuters.

"That's the benefit to the community is that these things occur," Burkhardt said.

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