Open Floor Plan?

If for some reason you had ever made it to the third floor of the Whaley House, maybe as a volunteer or because you told me you just really like old houses and I’m a sucker for that kind of history talk, then you know it was divided it a few rooms. It was a finished third floor, but it wasn’t always like that.

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This is a picture of the third floor after the fire. You can see all of the walls that were once there.

When the Whaley family lived at 624 E. Kearsley the third floor was one large room used for storage. Often during this time the third floor could have been used for bedrooms for children, particularly sons I read in one book on the gilded age. The Whaleys, however, had no need for more bedrooms, so we have it on record that the third floor was just storage space.

After Mary passed away in the mid-1920s the Whaley House became the McFarlan Home for Elderly Women. It was at this point that the third floor was finished and divided into bedrooms. Once the house became a museum in 1976, the third floor returned to being a storage area. One room was dedicated to Christmas decorations, others to collections and programs storage, and still another to odds and ends.

After the fire all of the walls on the third floor had to be demolished. Suddenly, we realized that we had an opportunity to make the Whaley House even more historically accurate than it had been! We are going to return it to one large, open room!

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This is the same space pictured above! You can also see the difference between the new lighter colored wood and the darker charred wood. The burned planks that are left are still perfectly fine and we were able to save them. Less of the roof came off than we thought!

Not only will this better represent the house as it been during the Whaleys tenure on Kearsley Street, but it will also increase the amount of storage and work space we have. As an historic house, which is all on display for visitors to see, the third floor and the basement are the only spaces we have for this and neither is conducive to work space. Before I would set up tables in the summer kitchen (the lobby area) work on what I had to do, be it collections or exhibit construction, then pack it up before a tour. Anyone who came into the museum would see whatever mess I was in the middle of. This will eliminate that and make work more efficient!

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There are steel beams that run along and sit on the brick wall and extend around the house. This absorbs the weight of the roof and distributes it, to avoid pushing the brick walls out.

It isn’t just going to be a big open unfinished attic, though. Since there will still be artifacts kept up there, we need to make sure that it is insulated and the climate controlled, as much as an old house can be. We are going to attempt to leave some points of interest exposed, so some brick, some beams, maybe a glimpse of the steel beams they added to reinforce the structure, but overall it will be a finished, clean space for us to store collections and work on those items we don’t want people to walk in on when they show up for a tour.

The progress we are seeing is amazing! All conversations are positive and we can’t wait to continue to show you more.. Feel free to share the progress with your friends and hopefully we’ll see you at a program soon!

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This photo shows the middle of the roof. You can see where the large steel supports come together. There is essentially one huge triangle.

Restoration Update

If you’ve recently driven past the Whaley House, you have probably seen the work being done. I am happy to report that work is progressing very smoothly at this point!

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So, what’s been done so far?

Masons have completed the brick repair to the chimneys and the interior of the third floor. Once that was done, steel plates were installed for new steel support beams to rest upon. The portion of the roof that needed to be removed was then demolished (we were actually able to save more than we thought!), and then they installed the steel supports and began rebuilding the roof! It’s been pretty amazing to see how it’s all coming together!

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Here you can see one of the steel support beams. They are connected to supports that run all of the way to the basement, so they can help take pressure off of the brick walls, which were beginning to bow out after standing for over 150 years.

And now what happens?

Well, we will continue with the roof repair and it is estimated that that will be done by the end of the February. Once the roof is buttoned up, though, they can begin preparing to work inside. It is not clear what will happen first inside, but we will be sure to keep you updated!

Finally seeing progress on the house has been incredible. Even though we’ve been working hard to prepare everything for work and making the appropriate plans, it still seemed that restoration was so far away and completing it loads further. Now, however, it seems that the end is actually in site, even though it will take most of this year to get there.

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Here you can see another steel beam sitting on top of the brick wall and new wooden members going in. Additionally, you can see another steel beam that has been added to the floor of the third floor. All of this will ensure that house stands for many generations to come!

Be sure to stay in touch in order to stay up do date with the restoration process!

Thank You, Flint

It’s now been one year since the Whaley House fire. At this point I’ve heard many stories about how people heard about the fire, whether they received a call from someone who saw the house, or they saw the breaking news coverage cut into their afternoon programming. I remember the day like it was yesterday and still have moments where those feelings swell inside me.

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This year has been tough. I’m going to be honest, because I see no reason to hide emotion behind some veil of professionalism. I’ve cried a lot, and I still do sometimes. I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve wondered how something like this could happen to an innocent little museum just tyring to get by. I’ve put on many happy, positive faces when talking to the community at moments when all I want to do is pull my hair out and stomp my feet. I’ve made grim jokes with other museum colleagues who have been through similar things or can, at least, imagine what I’m experiencing. Laughing has helped. But, something else has helped even more… Flint, you’ve helped.

I’m not a Flint native. I was born and raised on the sunset side of the Mitten and continued there, by going to Ferris State University for my Bachelor’s degree and then Western Michigan University for my Master’s. Our in-state family vacations were spent along Lake Michigan or in the Upper Peninsula, so I really wasn’t very familiar with the East side of the state at all. But, I’ve come to love Flint.

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These things happen to Flint. Hardships, setbacks, disasters of magnificent proportions, but we’re still here. We still care about the city and its businesses, institutions, and the people who call it home. When faced with a blow, ten hands will shoot out of the dust to pull you up, because it’s what we do. The city has grit. It’s residents have huge hearts. Whether I walk into the Farmer’s Market on a personal coffee or cookie mission or am taking part in a community event, I am constantly amazed at the resiliency and bond the people of the city have. It’s unspoken, but it’s there. We’re in it together. We’re working to move it forward. I can’t give up on Flint, either. The Whaleys didn’t give up after the fizzle of the lumber industry. They continued working in and caring for the city through their philanthopy and business. Robert contributed to the creation of General Motors, Mary participated in several community groups, one of which grew into the Flint Public Library. They set aside the resources to create the Whaley Children’s Center and the McFarlan Home. They kept going and so will I.

So, after the fire, I didn’t even need to ask and folks from all over offered help. Some from museums, others with space to offer as an office, and other individuals asking if we’d need furniture donations or donations of time for whatever volunteering we’d need. Throughout the year numerous organizations have offered us space to hold programs and offered their programs as opportunitie for us to stay active. Many have donated money, far more than I could ever mention, while others have simply stuck by us and offered words of encouragement. Our members have renewed their membership, letting us know that they still care for and believe in us.

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Myself and a Whaley volunteer working a Whaley House booth at an Applewood event over the summer! 

And that, it seems, is what Flint has always needed and is never in short supply of: someone to believe in it. In its early years it needed someone to believe in it as the location of a city, then in the various industries that made it. It took people with ideas and money to believe in the city’s future and then it took the people who actually used their hands in factories, stores, and other aspects of its economy. Once GM closed up shop, it took people believing in a new future for the city, believing that there is more to Flint than the decades of its “Vehicle City” fame and now look at where we are. Look at downtown, the Cultural Center, and the colleges and universities. Look at all of the small business owners and the visionaries behind some of the city’s amazing nonprofit organizations. Look at the changes a few decades have made, all with an unspoken bond, an ample helping of grit, an appreciation for this city’s heritage (because loving this city is loving its history), and a belief in the future.

So, this December, please support the city. Take your friends out to eat downtown. Shop for local gifts. Give to the organizations that support Flint. Those of us fighting to make it better, appreciate the support, in any way it may come. Hopefully next year we’ll be back in action with even more entertaining and educational opportunities than ever.

Thanks, Flint, for everything.

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Greenhouse Restoration Fundraiser

Have any you heard of Giving Tuesday?

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If not you’ve surely heard of Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, and/or Cyber Monday, right? Well Giving Tuesday is the charitable version of those shopping days. Most statistical reports agree that almost 1/3 of all online charitable giving happens during the last month of the year. That’s a lot for nonprofits!

I can see two possible reasons for this, first many individuals choose to make their donations during the holidays. It feels like a Christmas gift. I know I tend to feel my most “it is better to give than to receive” during December when I’m buying and making gifts for friends and family. Additionally, some folks (especially millenials it seems) are foregoing extensive Christmas lists and encouraging charitable donations in lieu of yet another Christmas sweater. Finally, at the end of the year, folks are trying to give their final gifts for tax purposes. They can see how their home budgets are ending and where they can and need to give a bit more for that tax write-off. Whatever the reason, we in the nonprofit sector are incredibly thankful for the feeling of charity and good cheer that seems to permeate the hearts of everyone during December.

So, Giving Tuesday highlights the work and needs of nonprofits. It provides a way to kickstart a month of charity or at least provide a medium for people to use in making their final donation decisions of the year.

Last year I had a Giving Tuesday campaign planned out. We were, as you may recall, attempting to raise funds for our regular restoration projects around the house. We had been awarded a grant from the state, as well as two other grants for projects like replacing the gutters, repairing the chimneys, and painting the house. Last year Giving Tuesday was December 1 and the fire occurred on November 3o. This year, though, we’re giving this another go!

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The Lyman Estate of Historic New England highlights its greenhouses.

One project that myself and our board has been discussing is the restoration of the greenhouse on the west side of the house. You can see the greenhouse frame as you drive by on Chavez and the rest of the pieces are in our basement. The greenhouse isn’t original to the Whaley House, but we do know, from conversations with their grandson, that Mary Whaley had a “flower room” off of the dining room, where the greenhouse frame is today. The structure we have was actually given to us by Gordon Anthony florist and it is an authentic Victorian-style greenhouse. Today, the Gordon Anthony florist is now owned by Vogt’s. We have some money that came with the structure to restore it, but that isn’t enough, which now explains why it still sits in the basement.

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Although our greenhouse won’t look exactly like this one, found on victoriana.com, it will be similar coming off of the side of the house. 

We would love to set up the greenhouse! From the time I began at the Whaley House I daydreamed about the programs we could have with it, as well as the added room for regular tours. In the past the museum hosted programs on flower drying and even had a small vegetable garden, but I see so many opportunities. Children could learn about planting and growing flowers. We could hold programs on herb drying and the medicinal uses of various herbs. Greenhouses also have an interesting history connected to the rise of botany in the 1800s.

With all of this in mind, then, we would like to focus our Giving Tuesday campaign on raising $10,000 to aid in the restoration of the greenhouse. You can find our GoFundMe page here. Now that the house is being restored, it is the perfect time to work on the greenhouse and its installation and restoration. On Tuesday, November 29 we will be sharing our campaign and hope that you will too! Every small donation helps us move toward our goal and toward our dreams for the greenhouse.

Membership

Did you know that the Whaley House has a membership program? Like many cultural institutions we gain a lot of support from individuals purchasing museum memberships. This support is, in part, financial, but there is another element to it. By becoming a museum member, we feel our network grow. We like to think that, as a member you love sharing our story, events, and mission with others in the community. If we’re hosting a History happy Hour, we hope you’ll recommend it to friends. If we’re running a fundraiser, we hope that you’ll convince others to donate by expressing the passion that you have for our cause. When issues come to local government that affect historic districts, sites, or arts and culture funding, maybe you’ll think of how that could in turn touch the Whaley House and consider that in your opinion on the matter. Additionally, just knowing that there are people out there who see our organization as worthy of support helps us push through and continue on our path.

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The UM-Flint History Club also hosted events at the Whaley House and helped to volunteer. We hope to bring back institutional memberships so groups like this can benefit from the support they already give us.

In return for the support, members receive special benefits from the museum. There are free and discounted admissions, special members-only events, newsletters to make sure you know EVERYTHING that’s going on at the museum, and passes so you can bring friends. You can see all of the member levels and benefits here. Some of you may be wondering what membership to a closed museum would do for you, but we have a full lineup of programs for 2017 that members will receive discounts on. You’ll save $15 on tickets for the Whaley Dinner Club and additional discounts on our Mother’s Day Tea we are planning with Flint Handmade. There are also other programming ideas starting to form in our creative, history-loving minds. Additionally, your newsletter will keep you up to date during the restoration process and you’ll be invited to our Members Reception in December. And, as I said, membership let’s us know that you are like what we’re doing and that we’re on the proper course. We have done something worthy of earning your support.

This brings me to my final point…

Our Members Reception is coming! This event is one of my favorites, because it allows us to thank our members and unveil our Christmas decorations for the first time. This year, our reception will take place at the McFarlan Home, which was started in the Whaley House by a bequest made by Mary Whaley herself. There will be delicious food and drinks, prepared by Chef Jason Botz, fun activities, and updates on our restoration and 2017 programs. If you are a current member, we hope to see you. If you are interested in becoming a member you can contact the museum at (810) 471-4714 or email director@whaleyhouse.com and I can help you out. Now through December 1 we will be running a special and any membership purchase of $30 or more will receive a $10 discount! Please consider joining like-minded individuals in the preservation of one of our city’s landmarks and our mission to inspire historical inquiry in our community.

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Members Reception 2014

How Do You Like My Scaffolding?

Have you seen it?

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Scaffolding is up and work has finally begun on the house!

Those of you who live in the area or regularly drive past the house may have noticed that since the demolition wrapped up in January, no other work has really happened to the home. I have received many questions as myself and our Board of Directors have struggled to navigate this restoration process. Aside from coordinating the preliminary planning work of contractors, architects, engineers, and the city, we’ve struggled to work through the insurance process.

As most of you know, we didn’t start the fire (I think that’s a song…haha), so it has been the builder’s liability insurance with which we’ve been working. The struggle has been in explaining that the Whaley House isn’t just an old house. We aren’t a hobby of someone who likes old buildings, but an historic site listed on the National Parks Register of Historic Places. Beyond that, as a museum we operate with the trust of the public that we are honestly portraying history. This means, that making the house look old and restoring it in the period appropriate manner are two very different things. The people trust us to be responsible stewards of this local landmark.

Even though we have not yet come to a final agreement with the insurance company we know the agreement will pay for a roof. We need a roof before the poor house suffers through another winter, so we have decided to move forward with that piece of the project. As you drive by today, then, you will see them removing the chimneys, whose structural integrity was compromised by the fire and, after that, virtually the entire roof will need to be removed and rebuilt.

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We still have a VERY long road ahead of us. We were always told that, barring delays after starting, it would probably be a year to complete the entire project from the starting point. So, we kind of have it in our minds that early 2018 will be when you can look for our grand reopening. Our fingers are crossed that the insurance siutation can be settled soon and that work continues on schedule. Until then, we will still be holding offsite programs and trying to engage and enhance the community in that way. I will say that we will miss seeing everyone for Christmas once again!

All of the Things We Would’ve Told You

Moving through October with the museum closed has been hard. With the exception of last December, which was pure chaos to be honest, this has been the first big programming event that we have missed due to the fire. After three years of big Octobers, 2016 has been rough to deal with.

I thought, however, that I would share a taste of the creepy knowledge we usually bring to you in October.

One of my favorite stories regarding nineteenth-century spiritualism is that of the Fox sisters, Leah, Kate, and Maggie. Kate (11) and Maggie (14) lived with their parents in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York. In 1848 they made a bit of a commotion when they showed neighbors that they could communicate with a spirit in their home through a series of knocks, or spirit rappings as they came to be called.

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The Hydesville, NY home of the Fox Sisters. Image Courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com

The daughters were then sent on to live with their older sister, Leah, in Rochester but by then several community leaders had learned of the talents of the sisters and wanted to see more. They even presented their ability in front of a crowd of 400 at a rented hall. Once word got out others wished to see the sisters and they traveled to New York City and held seances, attended by prominent individuals such as Horace Greeley, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Lloyd Garrison. After this they took their shows to different cities before marriages pulled them apart.

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The Fox Sisters (from left to right) Leah, Kate, and Maggie. Image courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com

In 1888 Maggie publicly stated that they had been faking the spirit communications, much to the dismay of many followers and members of the larger Spiritualist movement. One year later Maggie recanted her confession, but the movement no longer wished to associate themselves with her.  The sisters all passed and that’s how their story ends.

The Fox sisters helped to push the popularity of nineteenth-century Spiritualism in an age when religious reform movements, questions about the validity of religion and truth of the Bible, and the Civil War caused many to question their own faith and what would happen to them upon their passing. Although they were just a few girls in a sea of many proclaimed mediums, psychics, and spiritualists, their story has been fascinating Americans for decades.