Children's Museum celebrates 25 years

The water exhibit, which teaches children about water power, is one of the features at the Children's Museum at Holyoke that the staff is planning to expand. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE The first visitors to The Children's Museum at Holyoke are now old enough to bring their own children to the museum. The Museum is kicking off a 25th anniversary celebration on June 25 from noon to 4 p.m.

That afternoon birthday party will feature animals to pet from the Lupa Zoo, a Holyoke fire truck to explore, performances by Pozey the Clown, face painting and live kids music. Admission to the party and to the Museum will be $2.50 with children under one year-old admitted free. PeoplesBank and Balise Motor Sales sponsor the party

And Beth Barton, the Museum's co-director, said there would be cake as well.

Barton spoke to Reminder Publications last week about the challenges of running the non-profit museum. First opened in a High Street storefront in 1981, Barton said, "It was a struggle then and it's a struggle now."

The struggle is a financial one. Barton said that western Massachusetts is the home of many non-profit organizations and many of them are competing for funds from the same sources.

Initially a project of the Junior League of Holyoke, the Museum has moved twice from its original High Street location first to a former school building in the Springdale neighborhood and then to it current location at Holyoke Heritage State Park.

Even at the park location, the Museum has expanded and now occupies the entire lower level of the building as well as part of the first floor.

Annually, the Museum draws about 60,000 visitors from the immediate area and from Connecticut and Vermont as well. Barton said that in the 25 years of operation there has been an explosion of museums aimed at children. She said that in 1981 there were 50 or so such institutions mostly in major cities. Now there are over 350 children's museums nation-wide.

Despite being in a relatively small city, the Museum has been nationally acclaimed. Child magazine ranked the Museum 12th in the nation.

One key to its success has been the Museum's growth and change, Barton said. Over the years, the Museum staff has added a number of new exhibits and the Museum has hosted a series of national exhibit. In 1993, the life-size animated dinosaurs in "Dinosaurs Alive!" proves to be a huge hit with a four-month run.

Barton said, though, the Museum has had to be different than its big city competitors. The secret has been to reflect the local communities.

"We're keeping our roots deep and staying committed to that," she said.

A walk through the Museum illustrates Barton's point. There is the WGBY TV Kid Studio, collaboration with the local PBS affiliate. There have been exhibits and programs in Holyoke schools about the Connecticut River. The museum hosted the Latino Mural Project earlier this year in its upper level. The mural was recently installed at Holyoke Community College.

Barton said the exhibit on canals and water power is expected to be expanded and exhibits now being planned include one in which children can "dig" for dinosaur bones and another on architecture.

Other birthday specials through the summer include:

"Two for Tuesdays," when there is a buy-one-get-one-free admission policy;

Wednesdays when grandparents are admitted free with a paid children's admission;

Half-price day every Thursday;

Every Friday there will be supplies available to make the Museum a birthday card. Prizes for the best cards will be given in late August.

These specials are valid from June 6 though Aug. 31.

All of these special features are ways for the Museum to attract new visitors, but also to say thank you for 25 years of support, Barton said.


The Children's Museum at Holyoke is selling a raffle calendar for the month of July. Each day during the month of July, one lucky name will be drawn and the winner will receive either a cash prize of $25 or on July 11 and 18, the winner will receive a $25 gift certificate to the Children's Museum. As a special bonus, on July 4 and July 25, two lucky people will each win $25. With the 2 for Tuesday drawings, each participant in this raffle has 33 chances of winning a prize. All winners will be drawn at random and their names will be entered back for the remaining drawings.

The calendars are $10 and can be purchased at the Children's Museum at Holyoke, either during business hours, or by mail. The last day to purchase calendars will be June 30. If you would like to mail in for your calendar, simply send a check for $10 made out to the Children's Museum at Holyoke for each calendar and mail it to: The Children's Museum at Holyoke, 444 Dwight Street, Holyoke, MA 01040, attention: Calendars.

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