Whitney Web Page  -

The Optical HeritageMuseum
Click above for most recent info on Museum Status

A look back at 2004 fundraising:

AO Collection and the status of the Optical Heritage Museum in 2004

The Board elected its officers:
President - Dick Whitney
Vice President - Margaret Morrissey
Treasurer - Dave Butler
Secretary - Gary Bridgman

The Board is working closely with the Southbridge Downtown Partnership with the goal of establishing a Museum that is open to the public and located in the Downtown area. Presently the Mission Statement and Business plan are being developed. Check back for further details

Johnathan and Lisa Krach (Vienna) generously donate money to Dick Whitney (Optical Heritage Museum Curator)-
Photo by Peg Whitney

On May 16, 2004 a Fundraiser was held at the Vienna to benefit the Optical Heritage Museum. I am pleased to report that this first fundraiser collected close to $1000 (including outside donations), with almost $700 raised on that day.

I wish to give special  thanks to Jonathan and Lisa Krach (owner of the Vienna) for donating all money collected from that event to the Optical Heritage Museum! This was most generous and much appreciated.. While new to town, the Krachs continue to demonstrate their commitment to the betterment of Southbridge. I also wish to thank everyone who attended the Antique Appraisal day, and your support is much appreciated. This was an Antique Appraisal Day, where many interesting items were valued by Antique’s expert Darrell English.  Wine (Compliments of Rudi’s & Son Wine Importers) and hors d'oeuvres were served and many items from the Museum collection were on display. By all accounts it was a most entertaining and successful day.

This event was the first to be coordinated by members of the Downtown Partnership subcommittee on the Museum. The following serve on this committee and I wish to thank them for their assistance: Maureen Prokos, Harvey Shanbaum, Margaret Morrissey, Bruce Hynes, Johnathan and Lisa Krach.

It is important that all understand that we share a common goal  which is to  establish a home in Downtown Southbridge for the Optical Heritage Museum ; this will  include the “AO Collection, but will also contain many new items as well. The first step in achieving that goal is to demonstrate community support through fundraising.

This event at the Vienna was a great start, but the momentum must continue to succeed. As Curator of the Museum, my first goal is to raise a minimum of $10,000 to be applied to the expansion of the display collection and act as seed money toward the ultimate goal of a new home. Included in this fundraising effort will be the restoration of historical photographs that tell the history of AO and Southbridge. Your tax deductible donation to the Optical Heritage Museum will help us bring quite unique attraction to Downtown Southbridge.

Dick Whitney

See what you missed at Vienna's Antique Appraisal Day.

Info about the first Fundraiser for the Optical Heritage Museum -

More about the AO Museum as it was prior to 2002

May 12, 2004 Southbridge Evening News

Daniellw Williamson e-mail: dwilliamson@stonebridgepress.com

The following article appeared in the Southbridge News, and helped regenerate community interest in the Museum and therefore is provided as a vision of what could be.

March 4, 2004 Editorial of Southbridge News

Historic potential

By Tim Kane
Evening News Editor

SOUTHBRIDGE — It never ceases to amaze me what a small roomful of people can accomplish in 15 minutes.
Take yesterday’s 8 a.m. Southbridge Downtown Partnership meeting in the bowels of Town Hall, for example. No coffee and no Danish was present — just good old fashioned brainstorming.What I’m specifically talking about is an idea editorial floated on the Evening News Opinion page last month, titled “Sell Southbridge’s History.” My idea laid out a basic foundation for raising funds and building an interactive, multi-disciplinary tract history museum on Main Street in downtown Southbridge. The museum would help stimulate downtown redevelopment efforts, and showcase our heritage instead of leaving artifacts in storage, or on partial temporary display.

Some of the ideas I presented were grandiose, such as replicating a working old trolley car and tracks downtown to provide tours, or offering a thrill ride that takes riders through Southbridge’s three major flood periods. However, the basic tenets of the proposed “Eye of History Museum” — a place to educate folks about the unique manufacturing and industrial prowess of Southbridge — is certainly not original, and has taken on many forms in the past.

Yesterday’s Downtown Partnership session was a promising new beginning, considering a special subcommittee was appointed by the board to further explore the museum proposal. No one man has worked more diligently on preserving precious artifacts from the American Optical Complex’s massive historical index and elsewhere in town than Richard Whitney. If you review his Web site http://web.meganet.net/dickwhitney/RBWSouthbridge.html — and you really should — users instantly will grasp how committed this historian is to preserving our past. And there is already a blueprint to follow from former AO worker John Young, who helped celebrate the company’s 150th birthday by organizing a small army to create an AO Museum (pictured above.)

The museum opened on weekends for a while and was staffed by volunteers. According to Young, there were even photos and brochures at the Sturbridge Tourist Center telling people to come on down to see the museum.When the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center was built, space for the museum was lost, and thankfully Whitney managed to store all of its artifacts and many other gems in a secure location.

And therein lies the challenge. How do we find a secure, accessible, convenient location that could house many tons of artifacts, and still have room to expand? Some money could potentially come from the federally funded Quinebaug-Shetucket Rivers National Heritage Corridor, to which Southbridge belongs. There are many other grants out there, and private donors would certainly come forward to support a future campaign as well. My editorial pointed out that there is a lot of vacant space downtown to study as potential sites. Imagine for a moment a three-story museum within a renovated Victorian-era building on Main Street. It would be a totally interactive, hands-on museum, with several possible field sites in other parts of town.
Merl Bassett, Steve Brady, Dick Whitney, John Moore and many other local historians have all started the ball rolling on this. We have film, text, recordings, art and photography, numerous artifacts and local experts to build a collection to capture our 188 years as an incorporated town.

At yesterday’s Downtown Partnership meeting, the board’s brains were working overtime. Whitney felt a future museum should not just be a room full of optical artifacts like it was before. For years, Whitney has sought a permanent home for the collection.
“You need something more than just spectacles,” Whitney said, who continues to receive donations of artifacts representing various facets of town history. “There’s a lot of stuff to display, but we need time and money. I don’t like to see it all in storage.”
Whitney and fellow historians have made the best of a difficult challenge in preserving whatever historical treasures are donated, and also trying to share those gems with the public. Local historians have recently hosted special sessions on the floods and AO. Frequent displays at the library give viewers a good taste. Police Chief Dan Charette even offered yesterday to temporarily host some displays near the community room at his station.

However, a vast quantity of the expansive collection sits in storage. Placing all those artifacts in well planned museum exhibits, and possibly cross pollinating those items with historical exhibits from other area towns on a rotational basis, could be just what our downtown needs.

The proposed Eye on History Museum could offer daily exhibitions and presentations on the machinery, tools, science, architecture, ethnicity and geography behind what made this town a success. The more community support this gets, the more leverage a subcommittee receives in obtaining artifacts, funding and staffing. While still in its infancy, anyone with a smidgen of vision can see how this museum is something we can’t do without.

Tim Kane is executive editor of the Southbridge Evening News, and five sister weeklies all owned by Stonebridge Press.

Shown below is the front of the original AO Museum Brochure, printed for the opening in 1983. This Museum was located to the right of the Marble Staircase in the AO Main Plant (now the Southridge Hotel and Conference Center). The collection is presently in storage, but plans are in the works to display Museum artifacts in the upcoming months. More to be announced soon!!!


Should you have memorablia that might be of interest to add to the collection, feel free to contact me to discuss this futher:

Dick Whitney
Southbridge Business Center
50 Optical Drive, Suite 200
Southbridge Mass.
1-800-343-7678 ext 5077 or e-mail: dickwhitney@meganet.net

More about the AO Museum as it was prior to 2002


Interested in the History Antique Spectacles?
Check out this fascinating premier resource on the subject:

Dick Whitney Sept 15, 2004

AO History Main Page

Southbridge History Main Page

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