Small museum hopes for higher profile

  • Edwin Battison, 93, died on Jan. 12, 2009, leaving behind an enormous collection of artifacts mostly related to precision manufacturing and evolving technology. In 1991 he founded the Franklin Museum of Nature and the Human Spirit to house his growing collection, shown in Windsor, Vt., on Feb. 5, 2009. (Valley News - Jason Johns) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Photographed in Sept. 1977, Edwin A. Battison, who recently returned to his home town of Windsor, Vt., after 21 years as a curator of mechanical engineering at the Smithsonian Institution, plans to stay active as director of the American Precision Museum. He says this 1825-model David Wilkinson engine lathe is the machine that made the industrialization of the United States possible. (Valley News - Jan Slusmon) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 01, 2019

WINDSOR — Throughout his lifetime, Edward Battison collected things.

He loved clocks and pocket watches, machine tools and thermometers, scientific instruments and steam cars. But even more so than the items themselves, he loved to collect the stories associated with each item.

“He collected until the day he died,” Hartland resident Jay Boeri said. “He didn’t collect just objects. He collected stories and researched the people who invented things.”

In 1991, Battison created the Franklin Museum of Nature and Human Spirit in Windsor, and after his death at 93 in 2009, Boeri and other friends came together to keep the private museum going and, even more importantly, to keep the collection together.

This summer, the museum caught the attention of American Pickers, the popular History Channel television show that features Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz traveling the country looking for interesting finds to purchase for their stores.

The show crew visited the museum last summer, and the episode is set to air at 9 p.m. on Monday on the History Channel.

At first Boeri, director and chairman of the trustees of the museum, was reluctant to let them come.

The pieces in the museum are typically not for sale.

“They certainly found things,” Boeri said, adding that they bought doubles of some items in the museum and stayed the entire day. “They’re very personable.”

Boeri and the rest of the trustees also see the American Pickers appearance as a way to let a wider audience learn about the museum, which consists of five buildings on 5 acres off Ascutney Street near Kennedy Pond. The museum is open mostly by appointment and few have seen the museum in its entirety.

“The purpose of the publicity, we’re not trying to make money, we’re trying to get the story out,” Boeri said.

During his lifetime, Battison, who also founded the American Precision Museum in Windsor and was a curator of mechanical engineering at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., didn’t invite many to view his collection. He didn’t have much regard for people he called “fanciers” — those who had an antique item that they wanted to show off without appreciation for the history and its purpose.

“Battison would talk to you if he knew you were smart,” Boeri said. “He would appreciate their curiosity in the object they had.”

Since his death, the trustees and other volunteers have worked hard to organize his collection.

Battison kept meticulous records and diaries of his finds and their history. Those were dispersed in dozens of file cabinets and hundreds of boxes.

“He was very organized person, but he had so many things to handle,” Boeri said. For example, Battison collected at least 3,000 pocket watches and 250 clocks.

It took Boeri 14 years to get a handle on the collection and the information.

“I’m one of the many people who was just amazed with what he had and how smart he was,” Boeri said.

For years, the small group has been looking for a bigger museum to take on Battison’s collection to display to the public and give it the attention it deserves. They don’t want to give it away piecemeal and they’re not looking for the highest bidder.

“We want to keep the collection together,” Boeri said. “We don’t have the experience to start something from scratch.”

And the trustees are also getting older and starting to grow worried about what will happen to the museum — and Battison’s legacy — in the future.

“Eventually it’s got to go someplace,” Boeri said.

So far, they haven’t had any takers.

“It’s difficult times for museums. People have trouble keeping their own things together,” Boeri said.

If someone tunes into Monday’s night episode, they might be inspired to take the project on and keep the stories amassed in Windsor intact.

“Battison was somebody quite special to me,” Boeri said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.