Calling all benefactors: Old Economy Village needs you. Because of severe state budget cuts, this site -- part of the Historic Landmark District of Ambridge -- is being closed permanently, with most of its staff members already furloughed. It is like a door slammed on history.
This is a historic jewel, with 17 buildings of elegant simplicity containing artifacts that illustrate the life of a 19th-century communal Christian sect, the Harmony Society, whose members were of German ancestry.
Believing the end of the world was at hand, the Harmonists did not have children and so eventually died out -- but their legacy has been kept alive both by the commonwealth and by willing volunteers, the Friends of Old Economy Village. But now a budgetary Judgment Day has come.
The long-delayed state budget imposed Draconian cuts on government and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was severely affected.
Its budget was slashed by $15.7 million and as a result it has been forced to shed 128 positions by various means since summer, including furloughing 85 employees last week. Following earlier cutbacks in the commission's responsibilities -- the Fort Pitt Museum included -- services at six historic sites, including Old Economy Village, will be discontinued, it was announced Nov. 16.
Hard choices yield heartbreaking and disappointing decisions -- and that much we can say with certainty of Old Economy Village. Here is a site, just 14 miles north of Pittsburgh, that illustrates an absorbing glimpse of a way of life long disappeared. It is estimated that roughly 25,000 visitors a year, including up to 9,000 school students, have peered into this open window to the past.
Now what? The state, which owns the site, must keep up the buildings and pay the utilities. So budget cutting will create a museum that no one visits. How ridiculous and tragic.
The Friends of Old Economy Village would love to run the site, but that is a daunting prospect even if the state does keep paying for the upkeep and associated costs (according to the commission, the total operating expense in fiscal year 2008-09 was $1,000,840).
For the moment, the Friends are hoping Beaver County lawmakers can at least get funding to last through the end of the year. They are also planning to go on holding Christmas events and are circulating a petition.
Good luck to them, but they will need more than that. What a shame that it has come to this. Calling all benefactors.