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NT History Museum opens capital campaign

The North Tonawanda History Museum has launched a capital campaign designed to turn its planned museum into a regional attraction.

The new museum will feature virtual reality exhibits that whisk people back to the old Erie Canal days, including a simulated boat ride that will start visitors on a canal boat from the 1880s and shoot them through the decades, ending their voyage on a Richardson Cruiser.

"They're going to go into a room," museum director Donna Zellner Neal said. "It will be set up so it looks like they're climbing into a boat. The windows are going to be on all four sides, and, through the windows, you'll see the history of North Tonawanda."

That will be one of several attractions contained in the new canalside museum, to be called the Lumber City History Center, a project estimated to cost up to $7 million and take two years to build.

The history museum board has its eye on a waterside site for a new museum, but won't disclose the location until details are further along, Neal said. The 2-year-old nonprofit group has so far operated out of a storefront at 314 Oliver St., and plans to move into the new building later this year, Neal said.

"This has only been meant to be a start-up place," Neal said of the current location. "We figured we were just going to do administrative offices here, but people just kept bringing us more and more stuff. We're able to handle it, but this was never meant to be a permanent home."

Of the museum envisioned, Neal said, "I don't want to call it an amusement park, but that's the long-range plan. We're definitely trying to do some interactive stuff, where you can touch a button and hear the whole history."

To bring this vision to life, the museum has started a fund-raising campaign, "The Future of Our Past." Money raised will pay for initial operating expenses, renovation, displays and exhibits, as well as library furnishings and equipment, and initial staff.

For more information, call 213-0554 or visit the North Tonawanda History Museum Web site at

George F. Rand IV will serve as the honorary chairman of the campaign board. Rand, an Amherst resident, is a descendant of the Tonawanda area's historically prominent Rand family.

The Lumber City History Center will feature information on the ethnic and industrial history of the area. The center will include a reference library, digital, audio and video references, and possibly a boat museum presented with the assistance of the Niagara Frontier Antique & Classic Boat Society.

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