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Welcome mat still out: Brown-Pusey House fares better than other historic homes in income, attendance

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By Amber Coulter

Declining attendance in house museums across the country hasn’t translated to the Brown-Pusey House in Elizabethtown.

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Historic homes-turned-museums, including some of the most famous, have reported declining numbers of visitors since the 1970s and have dropped even more in recent years.

The Brown-Pusey House on North Main Street hasn’t seen any significant attendance change. That likely is because museum admission is free and the house serves various purposes for the community, Executive Director Twylane Van Lahr said.

“We’re very fortunate here,” she said.

Van Lahr, who serves on the Kentucky and Museum Heritage Alliance Board, has heard from directors of other museums facing attendance and cash flow problems.

Steady income streams help the Brown-Pusey House avoid those problems and consistently draw about 16,000 visitors each year, she said.

The home was built in 1825 by John Y. Hill and was donated to the city in 1923 by doctors William Allen and Robert Brown Pusey.

The privately owned, nonprofit building costs about $3,000 each month to operate, provide maintenance, pay salaries and cover utilities.

That amount doesn’t count repairs and restoration. Preserving the history of the house often can cost more than buying all-new replacements, she said.

Restoring two windows recently cost about $2,000 each, compared to the $700 price tag to replace them.

The house faced tough financial times until 2007, not because of dropping attendance, but because the original trust from the Pusey family covering daily expenses no longer was generating enough revenue to support costs.

A new trust from a community member who had been friends with the Puseys, combined with fundraisers, other donations and income from rental fees, allows the museum to have enough money to operate and complete occasional improvement and repair projects.

Maintaining the building’s history is important because the facility and items displayed allow visitors to see and touch things they only read about in books, Van Lahr said.

“It makes it more relevant to them,” she said.

That allows the museum to serve its mission of preserving the house’s history and bringing the community together, Van Lahr said.

“We want to keep this place for the community,” she said.

The mission is further served by expanding the functions served by the buildings, Van Lahr said.

The Brown-Pusey House is one of the few historic houses that allows weddings and other events inside.

There also are occasional events, such as pumpkin decorating and Santa’s workshop, that encourage children to have fun while being surrounded by history, Van Lahr said.

The first use of the building when it opened to the public was as a library.

Volunteers also draw new visitors by doing more than many other historical sites to keep the website updated, Van Lahr said.

That’s important because the advertising budget is small and research shows an average mother will check an attraction’s site about eight times before taking her family to see it, she said.

“We have to be creative sometimes to get their attention,” she said.

Amber Coultercan be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.