The board of directors of the nonprofit Broad Top Area Coal Miners Historical Society is studying options for its future survival while seeking the public’s support in keeping the museum open for impending generations to enjoy.

Located in Robertsdale, the historical society owns and maintains a large museum situated in the former Robertsdale United Methodist Church. Organized in 1990, the 12-member board originally controlled a museum in the Reality Theatre which was transformed from a cinema to a multi-purpose complex in 1992.

In need of more space, the historical society relocated from the theatre to the former church in 2007 and currently leases the theatre to the Reality Church of God.

When the museum began its operations along with various fundraising events in the theatre, a steady income helped retain the museum’s financially status; however, as the years passed, public backing dwindled, particularly local support.

Over the years the museum has supported and hoped to benefit from several local, regional and national plans, among them efforts to reopen the East Broad Top Railroad between Mount Union and Robertsdale/Wood. Numerous funding sources help guide local efforts toward historic preservation involving the EBT and the coal mining heritage of the Robertsdale/Wood area for over a decade.

Realizing the need to expand its emphasis, the historical society initiated new and innovated projects to tie in the entire Broad Top area, a mission the society continues today. But in recent years, local EBT-related preservation efforts coupled with the ending of train excursions at Rockhill contributed to a decreased in attendance at the museum.

The society continues to partner with like-minded organizations, too many to mention here, which have their sights on cooperative activities. At Robertsdale, the nonprofit Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) continue preservation efforts involving the restoration of two railroad-related structures while supporters hope to one day see the reopening of the EBT as a tourist operation.

Locally, the Coal Miners Museum is also partnering with the Broad Top Area Heritage Partnership to help attract interest in the coal mining, steam railroading and iron-making heritage of the region. Those efforts have been marginally successful as the historical society struggles with attempts to retain its membership, attract museum visitors and volunteers to help with the society’s activities.

As an example, the society faces challenges in raising funds to support the museum’s ever-climbing expenses, particularly during the winter months. Conservative budgeting has had little affect as the board of directors’ search for new funding sources along with a membership drive to attract more volunteers.

It was noted that since the museum’s opening on April 6, there have been only a dozen or so visitors to the museum while group tours are nearly no-existent. With a lack of volunteers, the board has had to limit its museum hours to weekends, April through October. Also, the remoteness of Robertsdale and the Broad Top from other attractions has hindered the museum’s attendance.

Since the society opened, it has budgeted monies for local and regional advertising, membership in both the Huntingdon County and Bedford County Visitors’ Bureaus as well as various advertising in local news media.

Also, the museum has participated in a host of free promotional ventures for which the board is grateful, but sorry to report has met with little success.

Where does the museum go from here? A committee was created earlier this year by the board of directors to exam several options. By the close of this travel season, the board hopes to have a new “game plan” which it hopes will guide the society into the third decade of the 21st century.

The society is looking at several challenges: visibility, reliable income, more members and badly needed volunteers, all essential to the survival of the historical society and museum.

Here are a few suggestions the board is sharing with the public to help generate more interest and steadfast financial support for the museum’s operations: join the society (there’s various membership categories), make a sustaining financial donation, sign up and volunteer your services (the society would like to expand its activities and museum hours) and share your thoughts about fundraising possibilities.

Stop by the museum on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays, 1-4 p.m. (the museum is also open for group tours by appointment year around). For more information or to help, please telephone 814-907-1788. Your help is urgently needed.

Ron can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

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