The race is on to keep the Edison Museum of Vienna from going dark for good.
A lengthy list of building repairs has shuttered the Thomas Edison tribute for the past two summers, and now the pressure is mounting to find an inventive solution to the museum’s woes.
The Municipality of Bayham has given its Edison committee and community volunteers until Sept. 1 to rally public interest for the museum as it weighs its next steps.
“We need people support. We would also need financial support, but before that we need to know that we have community people dedicated and committed to saving the collection,” said Lynda Millard, a member of the Edison Museum volunteer committee.
The aging building, built in 1853 on land once owned by the famous family, needs more than $200,000 in renovations – an amount Bayham council just isn't willing to pay.
“It needs extensive repairs to make it worthy of public access and council is not willing to put the money into it to do that,” said Millard.
The rural southwestern Ontario village has a little-known connection to the world famous inventor. Thomas Edison's great-grandfather settled there, his grandfather lived in the area and his father grew up there before fleeing to the U.S. in 1837. Though he was born and raised south of the border, the famed innovator spent time visiting family in Vienna as a young boy.
“We have a considerable amount of Edison stuff. There's Edison family stuff and there's also local history pieces,” said Millard, who's worried local history and tourism will take a hit if the museum goes under. “The Edison name is a good way to pique interest... it draws in outsiders.”
The museum building was gifted to the municipality in the late 1980s on the condition it remains a tribute to Edison in perpetuity. If the collection closes for good, Millard said the historic home and property will likely be transferred back to the estate of the owner.
A group of museum supporters has ponied up the cash to buy a plot of land to permanently display – or at least temporarily store – the Edison collection, but Millard said that path forward is far from clear.
“We've been hoping to build something on the property... But council has not been supportive of us going ahead with that and we haven't raised enough money to really contribute a big amount to it,” said Millard.
If the groups can't get enough people with an appetite for Edison memorabilia to save the fledgling museum, Millard said they'll look into transferring some of the collection to the Elgin County Museum or other small collections in the region. Of course, that plan is contingent on other museums welcoming the Edison artifacts with open arms.
“Anything can happen. They can be given to other museums who want to have some of them, but the last resort is sale or throw it away,” said Millard.
Interested in Volunteering?
Edison Museum Volunteer Recruitment Meetings
When: Tuesday Aug. 30
(A meeting was also held Aug. 23)
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Bayham's Family Table Restaurant, 6209 Plank Rd., Vienna
More Information: 519-866-3525