Electrical upgrades revitalizing Wistariahurst Museum of Holyoke


HOLYOKE – Security upgrades to the Wistariahurst Museum’s electrical systems continue, despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the museum expected work to be completed in 2020. COVID-19 offered a chance to speed up work on the 19th-century Skinner Mansion, which was closed to the public. However, material shortages and other factors created additional stoppages.

“We vastly underestimated how long the pandemic would last, how it would disrupt supply chains and disrupt the ability to do work,” said Kate Preissler, director of the museum.

The museum and contractor United Electric have agreed to divide the renovation into three phases. During containment in 2020, the contractor performed a full inventory of all electrical systems, such as electrical outlets, switches, lighting, and light fixtures.

“We have complete and detailed diagrams of the house, which we never had before. It was a huge step forward, ”said Preissler. “Although it took a long time, we wanted to make sure that the future stewards of this house have the intentionally perceived records and knowledge. “

Two Community Preservation Act grants totaling $ 159,000 supported the design and inventory phase and subsequent safety work. A priority list identified critical needs, with fuse boxes classified as must-haves. “This will guide home electrical upgrades for years to come,” she added.

The project is estimated to cost approximately $ 200,000 when completed.

Preissler expects the safety phase to be completed by mid-August, including the replacement of uneven fuse boxes installed in the 1930s. The panels are considered historic and will be part of the museum’s collection. . Despite having exceeded their usefulness, Preissler said fuse boxes were considered cutting edge technology in their day.

“The good news is that some things have been below estimated cost which has been great and helpful for us,” she said. “The safety devices are going to be a relief for everyone. The audience won’t notice much of a difference, but everyone here will notice the difference.

The Music Room, a favorite of socialite Belle Skinner, and the Great Hall were a mishmash of electrical systems. Preissler noted that bands and artists often used long extension cords to other parts of the house to find safe and adequate power. Sometimes fuses blew during performances, but replacing the fuses proved too dangerous for staff and possibly electricians.

Wistariahurst also received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund for the project. Subsequent renovations include new lighting and additional capacity in the music room. “It will be transformative for space,” said Preissler.

Visitors must register online for tours and other programs.

An exhibition titled “Connecting Threads: Bridal Gowns from the Wistariahurst Textile Collection” opened on Thursday. A landscape tour is scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. City historian Penny Martorell will lead guests through the museum’s lush gardens.

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