August 20, 2019
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Woodlawn Museum gets anonymous $4M challenge grant for barn

ELLSWORTH, Maine — With the help of a matching challenge grant, Woodlawn Museum is hoping to get a bigger and better barn.

A barn on the 180-acre museum property — which includes the former Black House, a croquet lawn, community gardens and trails in the woods behind the house — dates from the early 1800s and needs to be replaced, executive director Joshua Torrance said Tuesday. The new barn will resemble the existing one, hopefully including some elements salvaged from it, and will be closer in size to the original structure, part of which was demolished in the 1940s.

Toward that end, a group of private donors who wish to remain anonymous have agreed to contribute $4 million to the project on the condition that Woodlawn first raise that same amount, Torrance said. The resulting $8 million in funds would cover the cost of designing and building the barn and leave an ample amount left over, he said.

“There will be a significant portion that goes toward our endowment,” Torrance said.

He added that how much of the raised funds would go to the barn project and how much to the endowment has not been decided.

The museum already had raised nearly $1 million, he said, about $650,000 of which is from private donations and another $350,000 was donated by a private foundation to underwrite the museum’s associated master plan.

“We have a long road ahead of us,” Torrance said of raising more than $3 million to match the additional $4 million in promised funds.

Details have yet to be worked out, but the new barn is expected to be about three times the size of the existing barn, which is in poor physical shape. The eastern facade of the new barn, facing the Black House, will closely resemble the facade it will replace, Torrance said. The expanded footprint of the new barn will extend west, into the existing parking area, where the larger wing of the old barn was torn down about 70 years ago.

Woodlawn officials intend the new structure to include a banquet hall that can seat 150 to 180 people and an attached catering-capable kitchen that can be used for weddings, corporate events or similar functions, according to Torrance. Also on the list is 12,000 square feet of space that would be used for changing exhibitions.

The added exhibition space will enable Woodlawn to offer rotating exhibits that will complement the Black House, which has been preserved in time-capsule fashion, he said. The added function hall will ensure that the museum can offer programs and events year-round and should be a boon to the city’s economy by creating a much-needed event space in the Ellsworth area.

“It’s really making Woodlawn relevant for the next 100 years,” Torrance said of the proposed project. “We want it to be a top-notch facility.”

Torrance said museum officials will make sure they have the necessary funds in hand before the project gets under way. He said how long that might take is unknown, but the sooner things fall into place the better.

“It depends on how quickly we raise the money,” he said.


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