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Monday, Jan. 16, 2017

REPRIEVE FOR HISTORY

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Keeping our history – and our downtown museums – alive

On Sept. 14, 2016, the boards of two downtown history museums – the Spring Street Historical Museum, whose exhibits tell the history of Shreveport, and the Shreveport Water Works Museum, the city’s first water plant, opened in 1887 – were invited to a meeting with Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler. They were given coffee, cookies and bad news. The group, many of whom have spent years volunteering and raising money to maintain the physical buildings housing the museums and the collections inside were told the museums were being closed on Dec. 31, 2016.

Since 2011, funds to museums have been steadily cut, with the last several years of tight state budgets being especially difficult. Board members and Friends groups of both the Water Works and Spring Street museums tried to fill in the ever-growing gaps, but state rules prevented the facilities from opening without state-paid employees on the grounds. The Friends sent money to reimburse Baton Rouge for those state employees, got grants for painting and mortar work, even paid for housekeeping staff to keep the museums open and viable.

It is important to note that the museums are not a hefty burden. The most recent yearly costs (excluding insurance) on the Spring Street Historical Museum was $15,161; for the Shreveport Water Works Museum, it was closer to $42,300, for a total of $57,461 for the two. Make that three. The Shreveport Railroad Museum is on the grounds of the Water Works Museum, and if the Water Works is closed, so, too, is the Railroad Museum. The Secretary of State’s announcement to close the museums was not a surprise to those assembled, but it was a shock, given a fastapproaching deadline. Lifelines were thrown out to the National Parks Service (interested, but a multi-year project), the Lt. Governor’s Office (interested, but no money) and others.

Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler was asked to intervene and did, convincing Secretary Schedler to reconsider, which he did so long as yet-unspecified reimburse-ments are made to the state by the Friends groups.

Over the next months, the museums will revert to their former owners – the City of Shreveport for the Water Works, and to the family that owns the building and the Colonial Dames for the Spring Street Museum. This reversion will be both good and bad – good because the “new” owners should have more latitude in allowing volunteer help, in being flexible and responsive, in allowing events and being open longer hours. Bad in that neither had budgeted for running a museum, and money stopped growing on trees in Louisiana sometime back in the ’80s. But these museums are important and should remain open. They are part of our history and tell the story of who we are and how we got here.

The Water Works Museum is both a National Historical and National Civil Engineering Landmark, a Victorian-era marvel that for nearly 100 years kept Shreveport safe with sanitary drinking water and a way to fight fires that regularly engulfed downtown. It was one of just a handful of plants across the entire country that filtered water in 1890, and when it was retired in 1980, it was arguably the oldest steam-powered plant in the U.S.

The Spring Street Museum is located in one of downtown’s oldest remaining buildings, an 1865 New Orleans-style twostory that was once the home to E & B Jacobs Bank, the first nationally chartered bank in Shreveport. It is said the ghost of Ed Jacobs still calls this space home. Supporters of all three museums, the City of Shreveport, the Colonial Dames and others are working on solutions that will keep these spaces open. They could use your support. Consider becoming a member of one of the Friends’ groups. Come to a fund-raiser planned for Jan. 26, speak out and speak up. Our museums, and our history, depend on it.

– Liz Swaine

MORE INFORMATION:

Joint fund-raiser for both museums, with dinner and lecture featuring Dr. Alexander Mikaberidze, 6 p.m., Jan. 26, East Ridge Country Club. $80 per person. RSVP by Jan. 20 to: Lissa Grounsell, 11010 Belle Rose Circle, Shreveport.

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