It was an ordinary Sunday in May 1978 – but something extraordinary happened. A group of Mifflinburg citizens, led by Dr. Charles McCool Snyder, a retired history professor had been discussing the need for a museum celebrating the town’s heritage of buggy making. At an earlier meeting, Norman Heiss and his sons, Owen and Glen had asked, “Would you like to see a buggy factory?” And on this Sunday afternoon, the group got its first glimpse of the Heiss Coach Works. Behind the closed doors of the factory lay forty years of buggy makinghistory: William’s tools, a hit & miss engine, horseshoes, tires, wheels, dashboards, upholstered seats, paints, catalogs for parts and his own account books. There were finished vehicles in ruins and vehicles barely begun. There were beehives, honey can labels, farm tools and more. The reaction of those who gathered was one of disbelief. Almost as one the group, realized that the shop was virtually intact from its original use. It was as if William Heiss had closed the doors after a day of work intending to return the next morning.
Upon further examination, the group realized that two other buildings on the site – the family home and the repository – were also intact. Over the next few weeks, the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum Association was organized and chartered as a not-for-profit museum. The museum has been recognized as one of only twelve craft/industrial museums in the United States that preserves and interprets an original site.
Initially an all volunteer operation – the museum restored the factory, the house and the repository, collected buggies, wagons and sleighs to display, rebuilt the Carriage House, built the Visitor Center and installed wheelchair accessible walkways throughout the historic site. Work and improvements continue for the museum as it moves towards rebuilding the livery stable.
Volunteers continue to be the backbone of the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum by guiding tours, staffing the admissions desk, planning events and programs and offering research assistance to visitors.
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