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Plans Under Way to Save Tiny Museum

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Now, Tom Robinson plans a rescue.

“We’ll be fixing it up,” says Robinson, who paid $35,000 for the firehouse at 200 W. Marshall St. The local real estate developer once served as chairman of the museum. He previously owned the building for 12 years before donating it to the nonprofit Virginia Fire and Police Museum in 1988.

But plans to grow the little museum — or even keep it afloat — never materialized. Despite an annual budget of $288,000, there was little money for added exhibits and none for glitzy advertising. Visitors were mostly schoolchildren on field trips. Attendance fell to as few as four or five walk-in visitors a day. When the museum held its annual open house three years ago, announcements were sent signaling a message unabashedly direct: “WE NEED YOUR ATTENTION!” Pleas didn’t work. The museum closed in 2002.

Today, Robinson hopes the climate has changed. He says he’s assumed the museum’s debt, is putting together a new board of directors and plans to find a new executive director. The building needs physical attention, too. The ceiling and floors have suffered extensive water damage, and there are other minor maintenance problems.

Plans for reopening the museum are still preliminary, Robinson says. He’s been in contact with Virginia Commonwealth University about starting a “museum classroom” program for curators in training.

Robinson says it’s important to keep alive Steamer Co. No. 5, built in 1849, the state’s oldest standing firehouse. In its day, its crews helped stomp out city blazes and rescue Richmonders, long before hook and ladders rushed to the scene.

Robinson says nostalgia motivates him too. His father worked as a firefighter at the station and he collected and donated many of the old fire wagons and engines housed there.

For information about the project, call Robinson at 240-4065.— Scott Bass and Brandon Walters

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