DECATUR — No matter the time — or the cost — Laura Jahr said the A.E. Staley Museum will open its doors again.

Her promise came after lightning during a storm exploded one of the six chimneys Sunday, July 1, at the museum, which is in the Staley Mansion at 361 N. College St. No one was injured, but the strike damaged the building's roof and interior.

“This is not going to close our doors by any way, shape or form,” Jahr said. “It will be a temporary close while we make the repairs that need to be made and make the environment safe for our visitors.”

Officials were still assessing the damage at the end of the week, and crews were using a forklift to remove large chunks of the brick chimney that were spread across the ceramic tile roof; as well as to tarp over where the chimney once stood to prevent additional damage from the elements.

Staley Museum damage 1 7.3.18

Workers fasten a tarp over an area where lightning struck the Staley Museum. The strike occurred Sunday evening.

The interior of the mansion also showed signs of the lightning strike, most notably as cracks have developed on walls on the second and third floor where the chimney goes into the house. Jahr said a specialist will come in to make sure the cracks in the wall are not the result of more serious problems, such as damage to the interior structure.

Crews were also cleaning the ground floor of chimney soot, which shot out of the fireplace and across the floor and nearby objects when the chimney was struck.

The air was so thick with soot on Sunday that Jahr said 911 was called to make sure the museum was not on fire. Luckily, she said the lightning strike not ignite a fire or cause water damage.

Jahr said an estimate was not available yet for how much it will cost to fix the chimney, roof and other damage that could be discovered. The museum has insurance, which Jahr said should cover some of the cost, but she also said donations would be “very welcome.”

There is no timeline for repairs, but optimistically, Jahr said the museum could reopen by late summer. Updates will be provided on the museum's Facebook page, and the museum's website, staleymuseum.com, has a sign-up for a newsletter that will provide updates on the repairs as well.

Notably, Sunday was not the first incident in which lightning has taken out a chimney at the mansion.

On May 17, 1990, lightning struck one of the mansion’s six chimneys and shattered it, according to a Herald & Review article from that day. No injuries were reported at the time, during which the mansion was divided into 16 apartments.

Staley Mansion lightning, 1990 archive

An article from the May 17, 1990 edition of the Decatur Herald & Review reports on the Staley Mansion being struck by lightning

The mansion was built in 1884, and passed through several hands before being purchased by A.E. Staley in 1913. The businessman and founder of the A. E. Staley company remodeled the home to an English Tudor style, and his family owned it until 1951.

The home went through several transformations before it was acquired in 2013 by the Staley Museum Foundation for the purpose of restoring it and making it the site of the Staley Museum.

The lightning strike represents a real hurdle, but Jahr said she and other museum officials will do everything they can to make sure the museum opens again. 

“The Staley family, the museum board of directors and the museum staff are absolutely committed to this project,” Jahr said. “It is a hurdle we will take care of it, and we will open our doors and enthusiastically continue to preserve local history, Staley family history, Staley company history, and this home.”

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Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles


Macon County Reporter

Macon County reporter for the Herald & Review.

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