Mifflinburg Buggy Museum struggling

From left, Gary Coddington, Mifflinburg Buggy Museum volunteer and former board member, Leonard Manbeck, board member and buildings and grounds chief, Leanne Keefer Bechdel, vice president and Peter Gardner, board president, agreed that the museum needs help.

LEWISBURG — The last couple of years have been tough for the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum.

The state of affairs is to be a topic of the annual board meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum, 598 Green St., Mifflinburg.

“We get no state or federal funding anymore,” said Peter Gardner, board president and 32-year member. “Most of our funding is through visitors or private donations.”

 Leanne Keefer Bechdel agreed during a recent discussion of the museum’s status. The board vice president and interim secretary added that annual membership, $35 per year, was a huge source of funds.

Buggy Days was also once on the fundraising calendar. Vendors would demonstrate the trades needed for buggy building.

But Gardner said Buggy Days lost its luster when it mostly moved to the VFW Field at the behest of other community organizations.

“That pulled stuff away from the museum. We didn’t get that many visitors here,” he said. “We had people at both sites and it just didn’t seem to work out very well.”

There were other fundraising events, Gardner said, but they have faded away in part because dates conflicted with other local events.

Gardner and Bechdel noted that bus tours were also once a regular source of visitors, but some have canceled due to the lack of ridership. Volunteer Gary Coddington, former board member, recalled that there were once four or five bus tours per month.

Bechdel cited the Route 45 rebuild of a few years ago as a having cut into attendance as people may have avoided the area. The following summer saw a major Mifflinburg sidewalk rebuild, which Bechdel said was a second year of diminished travel. It was followed by the rainy summer of 2018.

Both the volunteer roster and board membership have suffered as result of the combined factors.

“Where we had 20 or 30 board members and a pack of volunteers, it’s down to the same eight or 10 people,” Bechdel said. “Eight to 10 people can’t run this museum.”

Bechdel, Gardner, Coddington and Leonard Manbeck, board member and head of buildings and grounds, agreed their plight was similar to what other organizations have faced. That would include the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market which put out a successful appeal for help.

The group noted that unlike the market, the museum has year-round overhead costs such as utility bills and a mortgage. About $90,000 is still owed on the newest museum building, which cost about $500,000 and went up in 2000.

“We are planning a capital campaign fundraiser for this fall,” Bechdel added. “We need to be more self-sustaining. We’re looking at like a large capital matching grant campaign to be more self-sustaining.”

Bechdel said the museum is too small of a museum for many grants and grants are not available for operational costs.

“We’re plugging along,” Bechdel said. “But attendance isn’t what it used to be, membership isn’t what it used to be (and) events aren’t quite what it used to be.”

Bechdel said the museum is still planning events and will continue to do so for 2020.

Manbeck anticipated a good-sized crowd on Wednesday, as he has had a positive response from former board members. The agenda will include how to get volunteers, board members and help in fundraising events.

The museum was founded in 1978, and was originally housed in the home of William A. Heiss, the founder of the company which bore his name. It included the factory, a carriage house and the Iddings House, which is used for storage.

Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at matt@standard-journal.com.

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