Fundraising effort saves Marble Museum
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | December 31,2012
PROCTOR — As an end of the year deadline approached, a flurry of fundraising activity has saved the Vermont Marble Museum from going out of business and its collection sold off piecemeal.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont announced Sunday that it had raised $375,000, paying museum owners Martin and Marsha Hemm $250,000 for most of the museum’s contents, including rare glass negatives, along with the gift shop. Not included in the purchase were the paper archives of the Vermont Marble Company and the library that contains marble samples from around the world.
Failure to raise the funds to save the museum would have meant the loss of a significant piece of the state’s history, said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
“This museum represents a very important legacy of our state,” Bruhn said. “Think about the buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C., that are made from Vermont Marble.”
The purchase was the first step in what has become a two-step process to keep the museum open and in Proctor, the former home of the Vermont Marble Company
“We now need to raise the money to acquire the building,” Bruhn said. “That will be a total of $480,000.”
With $125,000 in funds committed already, he said that leaves $355,000 to be raised by the end of next year.
The Trust had set a $400,000 goal to purchase the entire museum collection. But when the Trust couldn’t raise that sum the Hemms agreed to sell most of the collection for $250,000.
Bruhn said an unnamed university in the Northeast is negotiating to buy the paper archives, which include Vermont Marble Company blueprints, ledgers, letters and other records, and the Marbles of the World Stone Library, a research room of marble samples housed in the museum.
“If the university acquires both of those things, they will provide us with a (free) digital copy of the entire archive,” Bruhn said. “So the information in the archive will not be lost to Proctor.”
Should the university fail to acquire the two collections, the Preservation Trust would again be given the opportunity to purchase the collections.
Marsha Hemm said in an email Sunday that the sale to the Preservation Trust now ensures the museum’s survival.
“Martin and I are pleased and excited that after many months of working together with the Preservation Trust we are able to take this step forward, ensuring that the museum will be open next summer and that our employees will be rejoining us,” Hemm said. “This will be the beginning of a new future for the museum and we are happy to see it passing into capable hands.”
The Hemms have agreed to run the museum for the Trust over the next year until a permanent owner can be found. “We need to find a long term steward and owner of the museum and we will continue to try to find someone (nonprofit) who will to do that,” Bruhn said. “It’s not our desire to run this museum long term.”
The turnaround in the Trust’s fundraising efforts came less than a month after Bruhn had all but given up hope to save the museum. As of Dec. 1, the Trust had managed to raise only $200,000 toward its original $880,000 goal to buy the museum’s artifacts and building.
With the initial fundraising goal out of reach, the Hemms agreed to sell the museum’s contents and building separately.
The Hemms announced in April they could no longer afford to keep the for-profit museum open and would close it at the end of the fall foliage season. In July, the Preservation Trust stepped forward and signed an option to buy the museum with the goal to turn it over to another nonprofit to own and operate.
But faced with an end of the year deadline, the Trust had only five months raise the $880,000. Bruhn said in an earlier interview that he had no illusions that raising such a sum in a short period of time would be easy.
By the time December rolled around the Trust was able to raise only $200,000. Two of the donors were The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which pledged $100,000; the Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, which committed $40,000, has a mission of assisting institutions in and around the town of Castleton.
But the Trust was able to garner additional support from individual contributors and major donors, including LZ Francis Foundation, $50,000; Walter Cerf Community Fund (The Vermont Community Foundation), $25,000; Carris Reels, $5,000; and Johnson Family Foundation, $50,000.
Bruhn said several foundations came through this month after what is often a lengthy review process. He also said the fundraising effort finally gained “a little momentum.”
Bruhn praised the Hemms for their patience and flexibility in making the sale happen. He also singled out the Proctor Historical Society, Proctor Library, Select Board and School Board for their help.
Before the offer by the Preservation Trust, the Hemms intended to close the museum. Such a move would have resulted in its artifacts, including rare photographs, glass negatives, blueprints, marble carvings and tools winding up out of state or out of the country.
The museum is not only a repository of the marble industry but also a major tourist attraction. When told the Preservation Trust had secured the museum’s collection, Megan Smith, commissioner of the Department of Tourism and Marketing said in an email Sunday she “couldn’t be more thrilled” at the outcome.
“The number of visitors they bring to Proctor is very significant,’ Smith said. “Its partnership with the Maple Museum and membership in VAA (Vermont Attractions Association) are also very valuable to Rutland County.”
The museum holds the history of what was once the largest marble company in the world.
The Vermont Marble Company was founded in 1880 by Redfield Proctor. At its peak, the company employed 5,000 people worldwide. Many who worked the local quarries and the Proctor and West Rutland fabricating plants were immigrants from Europe.
Under the Proctors, the company became so dominant that the Town of Proctor was carved out of a slice of Rutland Town. As its headquarters and manufacturing hub, Proctor in essence became a company town. The simple wood frame homes still dot the streets of the town.
For decades, the Proctor family’s influence extended to politics, with three members of the family serving as governor. Any number of monuments and buildings were built with Vermont marble, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building and the White House interior. It can also be found in places as far away as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, where the marble was used to build the National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.
Over the years, the Hemms added exhibits on the Tomb of the Unknown, geology, and Omya Inc., the calcium carbonate company.
The Hemms purchased the museum from Omya nearly 20 years ago.