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New life for Tamaqua downtown

  • Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society, welcomes guests to an open house Friday at the new Museum of the Tamaqua Area where $1M in upgrades to the building were unveiled. The museum will open by May, 2016. DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS
    Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society, welcomes guests to an open house Friday at the new Museum of the Tamaqua Area where $1M in upgrades to the building were unveiled. The museum will open by May, 2016. DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS
Published December 21. 2015 04:00PM

A two-year, million-dollar overhaul of a former bank building is in the home stretch and optimism is running high that the project will pay dividends for downtown Tamaqua.

On Friday, work teams gathered at the 1905 First National Bank building, 124 W. Broad St., to cut a ribbon in honor of the final stage of a massive undertaking to save a threatened structure and help to infuse new life into the downtown.

"People in Tamaqua never give up," said Sen. David G. Argall, R-29. "Let's face it, are they even building places like this anymore?"

The building will house the all-new "Museum of the Tamaqua Area," owned and managed by volunteers of the Tamaqua Historical Society.

The final stage is expected to conclude in May 2016, when workers set up displays and open the museum for tours and research.

Dale Freudenberger, society president, said the upgrades were vital to preserve the building.

"It's a proud moment," he said. "The building has new roofs, electrical, plumbing and baths, and the marble and plaster have been refinished. Starting Jan. 1, we'll begin moving back in to the building."

In the meantime, much of the society's holdings have been stashed away in six rented storage units at an undisclosed location.

The museum will provide a new tourist destination in the center of Tamaqua with the added benefit of giving the downtown business district a substantial shot in the arm.

"The downtown is the heart of the community," said state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124. "I think it's important we continue to focus on the downtown."

Borough Council President Micah Gursky, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, said the museum will offer strong cultural and educational advantages.

"The collection the Tamaqua Historical Society has acquired since 1971 is amazing. People come from all over the country and world ... they come to see where their ancestors are from."

The museum is expected to serve as an anchor for a "Visit Tamaqua" educational and entertainment venue that will allow guests to enjoy the displays and then walk to nearby restaurants, art galleries and historic sites, such as the nearby 1894 train station.

The Classical Revival bank building has served as the society's museum since 1988.

The museum was closed after a final tour by local Scouts in December 2012.

The reopening will feature some new, permanent collections of national importance, including the work of nationally acclaimed illustrator J.G. Scott and will serve as the repository for 80,000 images of Tamaqua and the anthracite region as captured over the past 40 years by Scott Herring, known as the Last Anthracite Photographer.

Both Herring and Scott are Tamaqua natives.

"Our intent is to get most things under glass," said Freudenberger.

"Sponsorship opportunities will be available for display cases, seating and portable exhibit walls."

Financing came from a variety of sources with Mauch Chunk Trust Company providing a bridge loan. Funding sources include: $150,000 from the John E. Morgan Foundation, $100,000 from society volunteers, and $250,000 in matching funds from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program through Argall, funds from J. Keilman Dudley Trust, and other donations, including in-kind contributions from architect Ralph Melone and financial adviser Graysha Harris.

Other partners include the Borough of Tamaqua and the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership.

The Museum of the Tamaqua Area will include exhibits representing Tamaqua, West Penn, Walker, Rush and Schuylkill townships, Coaldale Borough, Andreas, New Philadelphia, Middleport, McAdoo, Barnesville, Quakake and other local municipalities.

A climate-controlled research library in the former board of directors room at the building's rear, or south side, a $12,000 project, was unveiled in 2012.

Volunteers spent weeks setting up the space and transferring delicate paper documents, photos and books into the new environs.

Another component was the acquisition and restoration of the building's original stained glass clock, a $15,000 project made possible through the generosity of Tamaqua resident Lois Breiner, who donated the clock in honor of her parents, Henry and Mary Kase Breiner.

The building was last updated in 1960 when ownership transferred from First National Bank to Miners National Bank of Pottsville.

A previous renovation took place about 1950 when an addition was constructed to the rear and the main vault was enlarged.

With the new research library, and extensive photograph collections yet to be archived, plus a need for tour guides, there are opportunities for local residents to become part of the new museum in a wide variety of capacities.

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