Nova Scotia

Centuries-old museum needs $1M but group worries Lunenburg isn't on board

The building needs $1 million worth of restoration work, according to Sue Kelly, a longtime volunteer with the society.

224-year-old Knaut-Rhuland home in Old Town starting to show its age

The Knaut-Rhuland house was built in 1793 for a prominent Lunenburg family and became a museum in 2000. (Emma Smith/CBC)

When you're one of many historic buildings in a historic town, it's easy to feel left out.

The Lunenburg Heritage Society says that's the case for the Knaut-Rhuland house, an 18th-century residence-turned-museum that tells the story of Lunenburg's first 100 years. 

The building needs $1 million worth of restoration work, according to Sue Kelly, a longtime volunteer with the society, which owns the building. But after making the case to the community more than a year ago, she's still waiting for people to get on board.

"I think if we put a for-sale sign on the building, there'd be mad panic, and yet, we haven't really felt the vibes that the community cares," said Kelly. 

The museum is on display this Saturday as part of the Lunenburg Heritage House Tour. Some of the money raised will go toward the building, but for Kelly, it's also a chance to get residents excited about the space. 

​Lunenburg's first 100 years

Before the house was bought by the heritage society in 2000, it had a long history of housing famous Lunenburgers. It was built in 1793 for Benjamin Knaut, the son of one of the first Protestants to arrive. He later sold it to privateer Conrad Rhuland, the grandson of another settler. 

The museum is one of three national historic sites in town next to the Lunenburg Academy and St. John's Anglican Church. 

Kelly said about 4,000 people come through the museum's doors each summer.

On June 7, it began another season, though Kelly had hoped it would be closed for renovations.

Chimneys crumbling

Instead, she opened the museum and found piles of dust from the decaying chimneys. There's water damage on the ceiling, bedroom walls are peeling away, the windows need to be replaced and the floor on the second level is suspect.

"We've been told by the fire marshal not to bring too many people up at a time. [The floors are] quite flexible when you walk on them," said Kelly, adding there are bigger price tag items such as electrical and heating work that are required, too. 

In March, the provincial government announced $1 million to help the town restore the Lunenburg Academy. It's an estimated $2.3-million project that has the backing of the town, province, federal government and the Lunenburg Academy Foundation.

Kelly said there's an emotional attachment to the academy because residents "have a living memory of that."

"They do not know anyone who lived in this house 250 years ago," she said.

Heritage takes 'back seat'

Old Town Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

"There was a lot of publicity around it when we got our UNESCO designation and we kind of rode that wave for a long time, and now that's kind of taken a back seat," said Nathalie Irving, vice-chair of the heritage society.

She joined the group just over a year ago and is part of a new generation of members trying to have a bigger presence in the town.

On Saturday, as people wander the narrow halls and bright rooms of the Knaut-Rhuland home, Kelly hopes they focus less on the society's lengthy to-do list and more on the story of Lunenburg's first 100 years. 

"I think our story is so fantastic," said Kelly. "I'm just hoping we can snow them with details that they're not noticing the cracks in the wall."

With files from CBC's Information Morning