Victorian lady needs a new coat of paint

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Aug. 13, 2013
The badly-peeling exterior of the Windham Textile and History Museum has a layer of lead paint under a layer of latex that was applied more than 20 years ago. Photos by Melanie Savage.
The badly-peeling exterior of the Windham Textile and History Museum has a layer of lead paint under a layer of latex that was applied more than 20 years ago. Photos by Melanie Savage.

It’s been about 25 years since the Windham Textile and History Museum has received a fresh coat of paint. And it shows. The coat of exterior latex that was applied in 1989, when the museum first opened, is badly peeling. “We began to strategize how we were going to handle repainting the building several years ago,” said museum director Jamie Eves, sitting down to talk in a corner of the museum’s main exhibit area on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Because there is lead paint on the 136-year-old former mill building underneath the latex, the project will be relatively expensive. “It has been estimated at about $50,000,” said Eves. “We have half that.”

And what little money the museum does have needs to be used for ongoing operating expenses, including heating oil for the upcoming winter months. The museum board has looked into numerous sources of funding for the project. The high point for funding for museums was during the country’s bicentennial in 1976, according to Eves. “Since then it has been declining,” he said. The recession led to further cuts. “Not only is there less money, there are more people asking for it,” said Eves.

The town of Windham, which owns the building, has been helpful in assisting to identify sources of funding, according to Eves. Last year the town applied for a $500,000 Main Street Initiative Fund grant. The plan was to use $50,000 of the grant money for the museum. But Windham didn’t receive money this time around. According to Eves, Town Manager Neal Beets plans to apply again. “But we can’t count on that,” said Eves.

Located at the east end of Main Street’s downtown area, the building serves as a gateway to Willimantic and a first impression to visitors entering the city center from one direction. “So we think there will be people in the community who would like to do something,” said Eves.  And there is concern that exposed wood might deteriorate. “We don’t want a cosmetic issue to become a structural issue,” said Eves. Not long ago, a structural engineering firm did an informal survey of the building and deemed it structurally sound, according to Eves. “It’s not like it needs a ton of work,” he said.

Because the lead paint needs to be professionally mitigated, this is not a project that can be handled by volunteers, said Eves. There are also liability issues involved with the use of scaffolding on the second and third stories of the building. “But we realize we can’t wait for something to fall in our laps,” said Eves.

So recently, museum board member Bev York designed a sign that will be used to keep track of fundraising efforts directed at the project. “We are going to try to raise as much money as possible - see what is available,” said Eves. A fundraiser has been planned, to be held in state Rep. Susan Johnson’s (D-49) back yard. “We’re calling it 'The long-timers’ backyard block party,'” said Eves. A throwback to Willimantic in 1963, the event will feature guest of honor Edith Prague, whose family owned a shoe store on Main Street decades ago. “We wanted to go back to Main Street before urban renewal,” said Eves. “People will come and they’ll get to reminisce about Willimantic in its golden age.” The block party is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 15, from 3 to 6 p.m.

The museum also plans to bring back the Snow Ball, which didn’t happen last year, and earmark the proceeds to the painting fund. “We’re hoping that will get us started, and we’ll go from there,” said Eves.

The museum is open to donations of labor, supplies and cash for the project, as well as advice regarding future fundraising. “The money will likely come locally, because it’s local people who care,” said Eves.  The building deserves to be preserved, “as one of the last grand old Victorian buildings on Main Street,” said Eves.

To donate to the museum’s paint fund, checks may be made out to The Mill Museum, 411 Main St., Willimantic, CT 06226. To offer ideas or for more information, call the museum at 860-456-2178, or e-mail themillmuseum@gmail.com.


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