Rockwood Can No Longer Function With Small Intimate Groups of Visitors
County Executive Tom Gordon says he’ll need to create programs in order to keep museum afloat.
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To raise money to purchase the furniture from the Hargraves family, the Friends held flower sales and art sales, and then a picnic right after the Fourth of July to mark the birthday of Edward Bringhurst III, who grew up at Rockwood in the late 19th century.
Looking for a bigger, better fundraiser, the Friends organized their first Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Festival in 1983. In the early years, former Friends president Chris Hutchinson recalls, the event featured bicyclists on 19th-century high-wheelers, glass blowers, Civil War re-enactors, a dunk tank and lots of children’s games. Its popularity soared. By 1997, it had become a two-day event, drawing more than 18,000 visitors and netting about $50,000 a year.
At its peak, it took 400 to 500 volunteers to pull the festival together. “We even had a couple that came from New Zealand to volunteer for three years in a row,” Hess says.
As part of their cooperative arrangement with the county, the Friends took over maintenance of Rockwood’s Gardener’s Cottage and the Porter’s Lodge. In return, they were allowed to rent the two outbuildings and add the income to their treasury.
In contrast with other “Friends” groups throughout the county, like the library backers who raise money to buy more books and meet other needs, the organization developed an outsized presence at Rockwood.
“It’s a different history, a different relationship,” says County Councilman John J. Cartier, whose district includes Rockwood, because “for many years, they kept it afloat” while county officials in the 1980s and 1990s viewed the place as “a white elephant.”