The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford is getting some financial breathing room, but still struggles to meet its operating costs and repay loans from earlier expansions, officials say.
The landmark site recently received $500,000 from the Annenberg Foundation, a gift museum officials say will help them keep up with loan payments that threatened to push the historic Mark Twain property into bankruptcy.
The gingerbread Gothic home was built in 1874 by the author and humorist, who, coincidentally, often struggled with debt and had to sell the home in 1903. It was rescued from demolition in 1927 and draws more than 68,000 visitors yearly.
The Twain House and Museum is among several historic house museums nationwide struggling to keep their doors open as support from donors and corporations has dipped and endowments have decreased.
Twain House officials say repaying debt incurred from building its $19.5 million, five-year-old visitors center also has strained its finances. More than 30 museum employees have been laid off in the last four years.
Jeffrey Nichols, a longtime employee who became director last May, said the museum's board has set up a special "turnaround" committee to supervise the structures, fundraising efforts and money management, its on-site store and its Internet presence.
The state also allocated $50,000 to the Twain House last summer, tapping a contingency account set aside to help groups that serve the public interest.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell described the Twain house as "a treasure, a historic piece that is unique to Connecticut."
But she also warned that many of the state's tourist destinations that have received money in the past will have to get used to reduced support. That's because the state budget is facing multibillion-dollar budget deficits in the two-year spending plan that starts July 1.
"The state has only limited resources, and all of these groups and organizations and venues are going to have to figure out whether they can make it on their own," she said. "Resources from the state will be limited and even more so in the next biennium."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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