Letter from the President
The Downsizing of America
By Charles F. Bryan, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer
Over the years, in this space I have discussed the tremendous growth of the VHS. In a decade, membership has
increased 300 percent. Visitation has jumped ten fold. Our functions now often draw overflow crowds. Thanks to your
generosity, the annual fund has reached all-time record levels. We have greatly expanded our programs statewide, while
upgrading our service to the community of scholars. We have greatly enlarged our physical plant to serve a broader public.
One area of growth, however, concerns us. Our collections are increasing at a phenomenal rate. From our founding
in 1831 until 1990, our manuscripts grew to some 7 million items. Since then, they have grown 30 percent! Our museum
collection has more than doubled during that time. What is the explanation? Certainly, we are more visible to the public than
before, and people know their heirlooms will find a good, secure home here.
Then, there is a new phenomenon that I call the "downsizing of America," something that institutions like ours around
the country are experiencing. Senior Americans in unprecedented numbers are selling their homes and moving into retirement
communities and condominiums. When that happens, people have to decide what to keep, what to pass on to the family,
or what to give to the history museum. As a result, the collections of institutions like the VHS are growing as never before.
At the same time, however, these collections are being greatly enriched. Important manuscripts, rare books, the delicate
drawings of a Civil War soldier, or extraordinary examples of early photography, long hidden in drawers and closets, are
now being properly preserved and made available to the public. We welcome these things. They are key to our mission.
BUT they present us with the challenge of making sure we have the space to house our collections properly. I can assure
you that our board and staff are making plans for future growth in several areas. I will keep you posted as these plans
develop. In the meantime, please remember us if you are in the process of downsizing. Your valued heirlooms may
very well need to be in an institution like ours.
Posted March 2002
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