IW museum faces shortfall

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Isle of Wight County Historical Society has less than four weeks to raise about $16,000 to cover a bare-bones operating budget for the Isle of Wight County Museum for the coming year.

The county, through its Division of Historic Resources, has been funding the museum since 1978, but a budget upheaval this year caused the county to look for areas to cut.

“Unfortunately, the county has just gone through a rather rigorous budget process,” said Judy Winslow, director of Smithfield and Isle of Wight Tourism. “Through that budget process, everything that wasn’t either making money or a core service was looked at very closely.”


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The Board of Supervisors decided it would be able to cover only building costs for the museum, to the tune of about $30,000 each year for the next three years. The Smithfield Town Council agreed earlier this week to support personnel costs of about $100,000 per year.

That leaves about $26,000 for what Winslow considers a bare-bones operating budget. The Isle of Wight County Historical Society and the Isle of Wight County Museum Foundation have put forward $10,000, leaving a gap of $16,000. The money needs to be in hand by June 30.

“That’s sort of our deadline where we would like to raise the money necessary to keep the museum open,” said Lee Duncan, president of the Isle of Wight County Historical Society.

Duncan is confident the fundraiser will be successful. The museum has survived other crises in the past, including a 2006 flood that damaged some of the artifacts and kept the museum closed for two years.

“I think it won’t be any problem, because so many people in the county enjoy the museum,” he said. “This museum is valuable for tourism, it’s valuable to local people, it’s valuable for regional folks, and there’s a lot of organizations that one way or another benefit from the museum’s existence.”

The museum, located in a former bank building, is one of the most-visited attractions in Isle of Wight County, Winslow said. Other locations that were under the purview of the Historic Resources Division — Boykin’s Tavern, Fort Huger and Fort Boykin — also are scaling down programming, Winslow said. The county’s economic development department will move into the second floor of Boykin’s Tavern to help keep it operational.

The museum, located on Main Street in Smithfield, features exhibits including prehistoric fossils, American Indian and colonial artifacts, displays on the Smithfield ham industry and more. Perhaps its most famous artifact is the world’s oldest cured ham, which has been featured three times on Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.” The ham is accompanied by what’s purported to be the world’s oldest peanut.

Donors will be honored on a donors’ wall at the museum and invited to a “We Did It” party on July 1 if the fundraising goal is met.

Donations are being accepted at www.saveiowmuseum.com. Donations can also be mailed to the historical society at P.O. Box 121, Smithfield, VA, 23431.