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Greenfield couple's museum goes to town zoning board

Union Leader Correspondent

December 02. 2012 7:40PM
Antique engines are part of the Ironton Museum collection in Greenfield. (COURTESY)

GREENFIELD - A cease-and-desist order that closed the Ironton Museum in September will be under review at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting at the town office Wednesday night.

Residents Donna and Tod Smith call it Ironton Museum, but it's really a personal collection of antique machines and household items displayed inside and around their home that the family enjoys sharing with the public.

The couple started collecting the antiques when they moved to their Route 31 home 15 years ago. Antique tractors and steam engines on the lawn attracted so many visitors that the couple started giving tours in 2006.

The collection includes antique tractors, old engines, antique sewing and washing machines and antique toys. The couple doesn't advertise, but people learn about the museum through word of mouth and call to set up tours, Smith said.

Sometimes visitors want to give a donation for a tour, but the Smiths don't make a profit, Donna Smith said.

"If someone is willing to give a donation for a tour, we accept it, but we don't require it," she said. "It does not make us a business. . No business is conducted, we don't make any money."

Smith said the reason the town has an issue with the museum is because a neighbor, upset with the couple over a property line dispute, complained to the town.

Town Code Enforcement Officer Peter Hopkins said he received complaints about the museum.

Because of the complaints, Hopkins evaluated the situation and made an administrative decision that the museum violated town zoning regulations.

"It's in a residential zone and the residential zone is set up for residences and it does not allow for a museum," Hopkins said.

In his decision, Hopkins considered that the Smiths had the Ironton Museum registered with the state Secretary of State's office, he said. Smith said they had the name registered to give school children a destination when coming to the home for a field trip.

"The school kids really didn't want to come to a place called Tod and Donna's house," Donna Smith said.

Along with schools, individuals and other groups such as antique car clubs also request tours.

"What I'm hoping is we can open up to giving tours again to share our personal collection. I don't know how they can say we can't share our own personal collection with somebody. This is my house. I live here," she said.

Hopkins said he is glad the couple has appealed his decision to the zoning board and encourages anyone who disagrees with a decision he makes to do the same.

"I encourage people to do that. I'm only an individual. I'm one interpreter, if you will. And by appealing to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, it's a group of people in the community to pass judgment," Hopkins said.

If the zoning board decides it is a business, the Smiths could seek town approval to continue giving tours, Hopkins said.

It could be considered a home-based business, which is allowed, he said, but that would have to be determined by the board.

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