|Henry Miller House Standing Tall Once More
The IBEW's monument to its founding fathers is taking shape in north St. Louis.
No longer a decaying shell of crumbling brick walls, the mid-19th century boardinghouse where Henry Miller and nine other delegates formed the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1891 is stronger than it's ever been, says St. Louis Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs.
Rotting timbers have been replaced with steel, the leaking roof clad in gleaming copper. Parapet walls on either side of the structure have been re-pointed with fresh mortar and the entire site has been leveled, with new stone retaining walls holding the earth back from a soon-to-be-installed plaza called Founders Park.
"It's hard to believe that just a few short months ago, this place was on the verge of falling down," Jacobs said. "Thanks to all those who've made contributions, and to the hard work of our union brothers and sisters from so many different trades, we can see light at the end of the tunnel."
On track to be completed late this summer, with a ribbon-cutting scheduled just before the IBEW's 39th Convention in September, the Henry Miller Museum will stand as a living memorial to the origins of the IBEW and the men who created it 125 years ago.
For project superintendent and 37-year Local 1 member Dale Roth, rebuilding the boardinghouse has been a labor of love. "I get up every day with a new challenge," he said of the work that started last August. "It's been so rewarding to be a part of this."
Almost every day, Roth greets IBEW members from all over North America who are passing through St. Louis seeking a peek at the progress. Members have come from as far away as California and Rhode Island to tour the building site and sign their names to a steel beam located on the second floor near Henry Miller's former bedroom.
"That beam is going to be a time capsule for IBEW brothers and sisters 100 years from now, and we're having a great time meeting everyone who comes through to add their name," Roth said. Along with visiting rank-and-file members and other union tradesmen working on the job, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson and International Secretary-Treasurer Salvatore J. Chilia visited the site in March to add their signatures to the structure.
The executive officers, along with Jacobs and Eleventh District Vice President Curtis E. Henke, form the core of the Electrical Workers Historical Society, a nonprofit tasked with raising the $6 million needed to complete construction of the museum and to set it on firm financial footing for years to come.
In just six months, the fundraising effort is a quarter of the way there, having secured more than $1.5 million in donations from individuals and locals across the U.S. and Canada. Several locals have donated six figure sums to sponsor entire floors of the museum, and many more have donated at lower levels to sponsor everything from lineman statues in Founders Park to granite benches and engraved pavers.
Recently, the Historical Society added new sponsorship levels for brick and stone fence posts, period light poles, flag poles and for the recreation of the saloon that would have occupied the ground floor during Miller's time.
"We've been so pleased at the response from our locals to the fundraising campaign," Stephenson said, "and we're especially touched by all of the individual members and families who have donated to preserve this great union's history on behalf of themselves and their loved ones."
Many hundreds of members have given sums from as little as $25 to lay claim to their part of the museum's legacy. They've been recognized with certificates and cast metal coins, but starting at $1,000, an individual, family or local can etch their name onto the museum site permanently. "I really hope everyone who can donate at that level will," Roth said. "Engrave your name on a brick or a paver, and you're there forever as a part of this incredible project. That really means something."
Roth's brother, Local 1 business representative Dave Roth, first envisioned 10 lineman statues atop utility poles in Founders Park, a sight that guarantees to become one of the defining characteristics of the property. The statues, designed by local sculptor Mitch Horstmann, will be covered after installation and unveiled at the ribbon-cutting on Sept. 15.
"We can't wait to show this place off to everyone," Jacobs said. "It's going to be just amazing and such a fitting tribute to the legacy of these 10 men and to the brotherhood they created."
Donations can be made online ator checks can be mailed to Electrical Workers Historical Society: IBEW Local 1, 5850 Elizabeth Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110.
"We hope every one of our brothers and sisters will consider contributing to this effort," Stephenson said. "And even more importantly, we hope everyone will visit St. Louis to stand in the room where this brotherhood was founded and say thanks to the brave men who stood up for the rights of their fellow linemen and working people everywhere. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude, and preserving this history is an important part of that."