Museum of “The Great Agnostic” Ingersoll Gets Redesign, August Conference Planned

The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York will open with a redesigned interior and all-new exhibits over Memorial Day weekend 2014, and Ingersoll’s legacy will be celebrated with a mini-conference featuring a Museum visit in mid-August. All of this will be possible because friends and supporters of the Museum around the nation responded so strongly to the 2013 “Decade III” fundraising campaign that the campaign exceeded its target by more than $20,000.

During 2013, the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee, a project of the Council for Secular Humanism, sought up to $70,000 to fund a complete professional redesign of the Museum interior, expanded promotion including outdoor advertising, and (if the entire target were achieved) a summer mini-conference centering on the Ingersoll Museum and its associated educational project, the Freethought Trail. The campaign exceeded its target, raising more than $93,000.

Two outstanding gifts put the Decade III campaign over the top: a $40,000 individual gift by musician and ethnomusicologist T. M. Scruggs and a $25,000 grant from the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Educational Trust. The new museum interior will be named for Scruggs, and the Front Parlor, the Museum’s principal public display area, will be named for the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Educational Trust.

“We called it the Decade III campaign because the Ingersoll Museum has already entered its third decade of operation,” said Museum director Tom Flynn. “We focused on re-imagining the Museum interior and displays because the Museum has been working with the same basic design since it first opened to the public in 1993. It’s time for a new approach.

Jeff Ingersoll of Hammondsport, an Ingersoll family descendant and a painting and historical-renovation contractor, is serving as construction manager for the project, as well as donating most skilled labor associated with the refurbishment and repainting of the Museum interior. The Exhibition Alliance (TEA) of Hamilton, New York, has been retained to redesign the Museum interior and to fabricate new or updated displays.

The refurbished Ingersoll birthplace with its all-new interior is scheduled to open to the public on Saturday, May 24, at 12:00pm. The opening will be supported by significantly expanded regional distribution of the Ingersoll Museum and Freethought Trail brochure at tourist attractions throughout New York’s Finger Lakes region. There will also be billboard advertising along area roadways during the summer of 2014.

Finally, the weekend of August 16-17 will see the first Ingersoll mini-conference since 2001. On Saturday, August 16, lecture and presentation events will be held at the Center for Inquiry-Transnational in Amherst, New York. On Sunday, August 17, participants will travel by motor coach to visit the refurbished Ingersoll Museum, a Finger Lakes winery, and selected attractions along the Freethought Trail. Participants will lodge at the Doubletree Hotel in Amherst, convenient to the Center for Inquiry. Specific registration and lodging information will be available shortly on the Council for Secular Humanism website, www.secularhumanism.org.

The Freethought Trail (www.freethought-trail.org) is a collection of fifty-nine marked and unmarked sites important to three nineteenth- and early-twentieth century radical reform traditions: the abolition of slavery; women’s rights, including suffrage and access to birth control; and freethought. All are within a ninety-mile radius of the Ingersoll Museum in Dresden, reflecting the social ferment associated with the Erie Canal’s emergence as a primary route for western migration.

The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum and the Freethought Trail are both projects of the Council for Secular Humanism, America’s foremost organization for and about men and women who lead value-rich lives without religion. The Council publishes Free Inquiry, the atheist/humanist movement’s largest-circulation magazine and undertakes a variety of educational and advocacy projects.