Historical Society Purchases Stillman & Crow Properties;
Plans Begin for Ultimate Museum Relocation
The concept of the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum moving to a new home has been around for decades. Those plans became more concrete about 10 years ago when the Historical Society commissioned a feasibility study and master business plan for a new building project. From that point to the present, Board members, staff and numerous ad hoc committees have wrestled to find a way to leave the venerable, but woefully unsuited, Barrows Mansion for better digs.
So when we say the acquisition of property that will one day house the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum was time-consuming and demanding, we have ample evidence. Yet, here we are, at one of the most important milestones in the annals of the 79-year-old organization.
These are the facts: The Historical Society, on July 14, 2017, closed on the purchase of the Stillman Inn and Crow properties, located side-by-side on the south side of Bouthillier Street, just a stone’s throw from the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site. With this real estate purchase, the Historical Society Board and its planning committees can set about the task of detailed planning for the construction of a new exhibit hall and, ultimately, the relocation of the History Museum, perhaps as soon as 2021.
“I cannot overstate the importance of this purchase for the future of the Historical Society,” said Christine Harris, Board president. “The Barrows Mansion has been our home since the Society’s inception in 1938. But it was never intended to house a museum. We’ve suffered as a result of limited parking, poor visibility to visitors, limited access for persons with disabilities, and inadequate exhibit and archival storage space. Even maintaining a minimum standard of HVAC to protect our artifacts is a daily challenge.”
The Stillman/Crow location helps the Historical Society solve all of those issues and provides an avenue to develop a state-of-the-art museum experience to draw many more visitors, thereby enhancing its long term sustainability. One could imagine a collaboration between the Historical Society and the Grant Home on a museum campus experience to complement the Main Street retail/restaurant scene.
Detailed planning for the new museum, including space utilization plans, architecture drawings, building models, building plans, construction, exhibit design, program strategies, relocation, and the fundraising campaign to pay for it all, can now proceed at full speed. If all goes as designed, the new museum space will open in spring 2021.
“Let’s face it; planning could only go so far without the location,” said Nancy Breed, Historical Society executive director. “Having finally scaled that barrier, we’re poised to really examine the possibilities for us and the community with the Stillman as a home base. The coming months will be quite exciting as we work with our members, committees and the community at large to discover our possibilities. We can’t wait to get started.”
Society Mapping out Short- and Long-term Options for Stillman Usage
The Historical Society is now officially the proud owner of the Stillman Mansion just up Bouthillier Street from the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site. A collective sigh of relief could be heard emanating from our Bench Street location upon closing as we celebrated the acquisition of this wonderful piece of real estate.
Then reality set in. And the questions we’d been discussing for months took on new urgency. How will we use the historic Stillman structure? How will a new exhibit hall fit in on the property? What will it look like? How will we use the Stillman in the short and long term?
Some answers will come quicker than others. Several major steps in design planning remain to be completed. But let’s take this opportunity to share with you what we do know and where we are likely going in the coming months.
First, the museum will not be moving from our 211 S. Bench St. location any time soon. The current timeline calls for a relocation taking place in 2021.
We do plan on making good use of the Stillman Mansion in the meantime. Several members of the Society’s administrative team have relocated to rooms on the first floor of the Stillman. Additionally, the main dining room space to the rear of the first floor is being used as a conference and board room.
Long term, we are looking at opportunities to fund a renovation of the mansion, but any plans must be coordinated with the construction of the new exhibit hall, and funded separately, as well. Our priority is to build the new building so that we can complete a move from Bench Street to Bouthillier Street.
“Our timeline for the museum move is a long one,” says Nancy Breed, Society executive director. “We will continue to provide updates as we move incrementally toward our dream location at the Stillman site.”