2007-06-02 / News

Volunteers Help Staff Stuart House Museum

By Karen Gould

The Stuart House Museum volunteer organizer Candi Smith (left), along with museum employee Sylvia Perault, and volunteer and City Clerk Karen Lennard, stopped by the museum Monday, May 21, to review volunteer hours for the weeks ahead. The Stuart House Museum volunteer organizer Candi Smith (left), along with museum employee Sylvia Perault, and volunteer and City Clerk Karen Lennard, stopped by the museum Monday, May 21, to review volunteer hours for the weeks ahead. Sylvia Perault welcomes visitors when they enter the Stuart House Museum on Market Street, as she has for the last four years. The city, which owns the building, is now managing and staffing the museum following a three-year management contract with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.

Through the winter, the city's Buildings and Grounds Committee discussed taking over museum operations to allow for an expanded season in early spring and late fall. The spark needed to make the change came in March from Island resident Candi Smith, who sent a letter to City Council explaining she had a group of volunteers who were willing to help staff the museum.

In May, the city hired Ms. Perault, a former Carriage Tours employee, and is paying her $7.50 per hour for a 40-hour week, while volunteers now fill in unstaffed hours to help keep the doors open each day from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On a busy summer day, the museum has as many as 200 visitors.

Built in 1817, the two-story Federal-style clapboard building was once the headquarters of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and the home of its agent, Robert Stuart. The building still has its original front door and wood-framed windows.

The museum tells the story of Mackinac Island's key role in fur trading as traders spent winter months exchanging knives and beads with Indians for beaver pelts. The pelts were delivered to Mackinac Island by canoe and then shipped to Europe, where they were used to make men's hats.

The museum offers a section on fishing in the region and has photographs of early Island life and Island household artifacts, including irons and medicine bottles.

Original ledgers from the American Fur Company's retail store, which also was on Market Street, are housed in the museum. The ledgers are a record of charge accounts by customers like Dr. William Beaumont and Madame LaFramboise.

In the future, the displays could be expanded to a second floor, to include artifacts now in storage, say volunteers.

Today, the most common question asked by visitors is if John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic, Ms. Perault said. It was his great-grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, who died when the boat sank.

Ten Island residents have volunteered to help at the museum, said Mrs. Smith, who is just beginning to organize volunteer hours. Overall operation of the museum and building maintenance is handled by the Buildings and Grounds Committee. Armand "Smi" Horn, Dan Wightman, and Frank Bloswick are committee members, while Kelly Bean, assistant to the mayor, and Dennis Dombroski, city building inspector, serve as advisors to the group.

The city agreed to seek bids for painting the north and west sides. The front of the structure and the east side were painted within the last three years.

City Council agreed May 24 to charge an admission fee of $1 for adults and 50¢ for children. Until signs can be made to post the prices, admission has been charged by donation. Over the Memorial Day holiday, $308 was received in donations.

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