The real root of the problem has been the museum’s decline in membership. Cole said the museum has fewer than 90 members remaining at this point and many of its core leaders are growing older. In the distant past, membership was 150 and above.
It depends entirely on volunteers to open the doors to the public. After the paid docents were let go, it fell to Tony Knapp, the museum’s president, to give the tours himself.
“We need more members to support us, financially and physically, because when we do an event there are only a handful of us who are able to work on an event, and that limits us on big events,” Cole said. “Usually we have to do stuff away from our building.”
The Bartlett Museum is open for tours every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but because of the lack of toilets, the museum has to hold most of its events and outings offsite, often at the nearby Union Congregational Church.
The biggest struggle has been keeping the Bartlett Museum’s name out there so people think to come visit. The museum’s name has a rich history in the neighborhood — it is named for Josiah Bartlett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first state governor of New Hampshire. Bartlett was born in a house that once stood about 50 yards from the museum building.
Its original collection included artifacts that were once housed in the Amesbury Public Library, including an extensive collection of birds collected by a 19th century Amesbury club and numerous Native American artifacts. Over the years the collection has expanded significantly. Among its artifacts are items produced in Amesbury during its heyday as a manufacturing hub, such as carriages. There are numerous historic paintings of 19th century Amesbury residents, an extensive photo collection, documents and a 19th century school room.