PALM HARBOR — Times have been tough for the Palm Harbor Museum: the 2009 death of its driving force, Winona Jones, a decline in donations because of the economy, the constant drain of maintaining its 100-year-old building at the intersection of Belcher and Curlew roads.
It was past time for some good news for the small museum, and here it is: The Palm Harbor Museum has been selected as a host site for the Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit, "The Way We Worked."
The exhibit, a partnership between the Smithsonian and the Florida Humanities Council, uses material from the National Archives in Washington D.C., to explore how work became such a central element in American culture and trace the changes in the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years.
The exhibit in Palm Harbor will open in early 2015.
Another piece of good news is that the museum will get help with the cost of putting on the exhibit. On July 26, the Humanities Council notified the Palm Harbor Historical Society, the financial arm for the museum, that it would receive a $6,000 grant.
When Colin Bissett, the executive consultant for the Historical Society, learned of the award, he jokes, he ". . . had to be peeled off the ceiling.''
"This gives us prestige to raise extra funds," he said. "It will garner more interest. It will increase traffic through the museum.''
Bissett notes that the Florida Humanities Council grant will pay for only part of the cost of the exhibit and the museum, formerly known as the North Pinellas Historical Museum, will have to raise the remainder.
'"We are planning to raise about $9,000 to put the exhibit on,'' he said. "We have a year to do this, and the whole thing is that you do have to get the whole community involved, the library, the chamber, and at the same time, it will all generate excitement.''
"The impetus for the program is to bring high-quality exhibits to small museums to elevate their stature,'' said Alex Buell, public programs coordinator for the Florida Humanities Council. "The Palm Harbor Museum, and the history of the ladder factory for example, follows well the theme of the exhibit.''
The ladder factory Buell referenced was operated in the 1890s by Judge Thomas William Hartley, the original owner of the home the museum now occupies.
It wasn't Hartley's only job. He also ran a fruit packing house and was a justice of the peace and magistrate. His work ethic resonates in the topic of the Smithsonian exhibit.
Although nothing official has been decided by its 12-member board of directors, the Historical Society is considering using its Personal Life History Program, a video production program, to raise funds. That program began last year through a $10,000 Faith Mission grant from the Pinellas Community Foundation to purchase video equipment for recording and archiving the stories of longtime residents of the Palm Harbor area.
"There is an idea that we could offer the video service to the community,'' said Bissett. "We'd offer individuals the chance to come in and have a taping for a nominal fee, and the money would come back to the museum,'' Bissett said.
Sallie Parks, a past president of the Historical Society and coordinator of the life history program, knows the attention that can come from the Smithsonian exhibition.
"The kind of halo that comes with the Smithsonian is wonderful,'' she said. "We're just thrilled about it.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.