|Before work could really get going, an addition that was put on long after Henry Miller’s time had to torn down.
The modest boardinghouse where Henry Miller and nine other delegates founded the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1891 is a humming construction site today. But the property just west of downtown St. Louis—on the verge of collapse only months ago—is well on its way to becoming a monument to the IBEW’s founders before the Brotherhood’s 39th International Convention this September.
In mid-January, the Electrical Workers Historical Society, which is building the museum in coordination with St. Louis Local 1, surpassed a significant fundraising milestone, collecting the first $1 million of the $6 million needed to restore and maintain the property to its late 1800s origins. Plans also include a park on the adjacent lot with statues of the linemen founders and granite benches surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.
“This a great start to our fundraising efforts,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who is also chairman of the historical society. “We’re honored that so many local unions and individuals have stepped up to help preserve our history in this way.” Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs said he, too, is humbled by the support and positive feedback he has received from IBEW brothers and sisters across the U.S. and Canada.
|Workers begin excavation of below-grade sections of the now hollowed-out Henry Miller Museum.
“It’s been really neat to see all of the families making donations for themselves or honoring parents or grandparents or siblings with an engraved brick or paver,” he said. “We’re really hopeful that this project gets the membership excited to have their names or their loved ones’ names be a part of this museum forever.”
The historical society is offering certificates, commemorative coins and engraved pavers to individual donors and families starting at $25, and has larger items like floor sponsorships, benches, and lineman statues available for larger donation amounts.
Dozens of local unions have made generous contributions as well, including six-figure sums from Diamond Bar, Calif., Local 47 and Omaha, Neb., Local 22.
But donations have also come in from individuals coast-to-coast, with contributions from IBEW members in 37 states as well as British Columbia and Ontario.
“I think it’s a testament to how important this brotherhood has been to these people that they’re willing to give so freely to remembering the founders who made it possible,” Stephenson said.
For retired wireman Steve Elliott, it was never a question of whether to give or not, but for whom. “I’ve contributed for myself and in memory of my late father-in-law, Paul E. Botkin,” the Dayton, Ohio, Local 82 member said. “I’ve donated on behalf of my brother-in-law and nephew too. We all owe a lot to the IBEW, and this museum is for the men and women of the rank-and-file.”
|Donations, so far, have come from 37 states and British Columbia and Ontario.
Elliott also issued a challenge to his fellow members and retirees across the U.S. and Canada: “Everyone’s situation is different,” he said, “But it’s important that this museum reflects the men and women out there working for a living every day. Every one of us should be able to write a check or go online and give something, anything.”
For members or locals who would like to contribute to preserving the IBEW’s history, visit www.nbew-ibewmuseum.org and click on the ‘Donate’ tab, or mail a check to the Electrical Workers Historical Society, IBEW Local 1, 5850 Elizabeth Ave., St. Louis, Mo., 63110.
And for those curious about the construction process, Local 1 Recording Secretary John Kahrhoff and Henry Miller Museum construction superintendent Dale Roth are hosting daily live video sessions on the social media app Periscope. Follow along by downloading the app onto an iPhone or Android device and searching for the user @IBEWMuseum.
As of the end of January, the three-story building had been nearly gutted while the brick exterior walls have been shored up and repointed with mortar. Special care has been taken to preserve intact parts of the original interior so that they can be reinstalled once the structural work has been completed. Work on grading the site for the Founder’s Park plaza and a parking lot was also underway outside.
“We’re so excited to be able to restore and share this important piece of our history with brothers and sisters across the U.S. and Canada, and we know we couldn’t make it a reality without everyone pitching in. I can’t wait to get inside and see all the amazing work in September,” Stephenson said.
|The leaky roof also had to come off. Much of the interior of the building had rotted thanks to years of water damage.
|Temporary bracing is installed to support the 3-story brick structure during construction.