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Millay’s historic house, museum closed indefinitely

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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media One of Steepletop’s gardens located towards Edna St. Vincent Millay’s main house on the property.
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    The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, a nonprofit that stewards the Millay estate at 440 East Hill Road, Austerlitz, is seeking help to keep the museum commemorating the famous poet open. The estate has closed indefinitely after the 2018 season ended Nov. 1 due to fiscal constraints.
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    Edna St. Vincent Millay and her sister, Norma Millay
November 19, 2018 10:06 pm

AUSTERLITZ — Steepletop, home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, is indefinitely closed to visitors because it did not reach its financial goal for sustainability as a house museum.

Millay, who wrote during the late 19th century into the 20th century, owned the estate, known as Steepletop, at 440 East Hill Road, Austerlitz.

The Millay Society announced the news Thursday on its Facebook page. The historic house museum’s season traditionally runs from May 1 to Nov. 1.

Steepletop’s board of trustees had to make a decision about the 2019 season, which was dependent on the historic landmark raising enough money to sustain itself. To stay afloat, the museum needed a long-term solution such as finding a like-minded partner to join forces with, Steepletop Board Vice President Mark O’Berski said.

“We didn’t achieve those goals,” O’Berski said, adding site staff will be affected by the closing. “We’re just devastated we had to come to this conclusion.”

Costs to operate the historic house museum run $250,000 each year. Earnings from museum tickets and the on-site gift shop covers a small amount of those costs, O’Berski said.

The board did not want to open Steepletop, have the site continue to operate at a deficit and end up needing to take its remaining funds to help with operating costs.

“We need those funds to safeguard Steepletop,” O’Berski said. “It keeps the place from falling down.”

Steepletop was opened to the public in 2010, while the Millay Society has been a nonprofit organization since 1978, O’Berski said, adding the society acquired Millay’s house in 1986.

“We never had the funds to do it,” he said. “We operated knowingly under a deficit during those eight years.”

The site has operated with limited funds since it opened, O’Berski said. To help with costs, the society sold some of Steepletop’s property to the state prior to 2010 to be included in Beebe Hill & Harvey Mountain State Forests.

Despite the financial issues, the site received high vistiorship this year, O’Berski said, and many residents supported its Save Steepletop campaign, which started in May.

“We’re amazed by the outpouring of people that came to our aid,” he said. “We decided to raise the alarms.”

Residents can continue to donate to the society to maintain the site, which will not be abandoned, at millay.org/donatenow.php

The society continues to seek a partner to try to help, but finding someone who shares interest in the arts is difficult, O’Berski said, adding a university would be an ideal choice. The society has also contacted local politicians for potential financial help.

“A university relationship is one that makes a lot of sense — in the academic world there’s an appreciation for literature,” O’Berski said. “We are still working behind the scenes trying to find a partner to partner with.”

Millay has no direct living family members, but some of the poet’s distant relatives who live in Maine and Massachusetts occasionally visit the museum and donate, but are not actively involved, O’Berski said.

The society receives royalties for Millay’s works, O’Berski said, but many of them will soon enter the public domain.

“When she [Millay] died, she left no money — she left intellectual property,” he said.

Millay was a feminist and activist for women’s rights during her lifetime. Her writing remains popular, O’Berski said.

“Her writing couldn’t be more popular; she was a rock star poet in her day,” he said. “In terms of her relevancy, she’s still relevant — there’s a desire to see the work.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman, email dzuckerman@thedailymail.net or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.