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seanmathis
New Driver

Starting a Car Museum With One Car

Most would probably not set out to start a car museum even if they had 50 cars just sitting in a shop. There is a lot of work involved in creating and operating a museum, well beyond just opening the door to an impressive private collection.

 

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Sean Mathis, the Founder of Miles Through Time Automotive Museum had a vision to create a co-op style automotive museum despite only personally owning one vehicle which was a 1959 Cadillac Coupe De Ville that belonged to his grandpa.

 

Sean started the museum in 2017 in a little town called Toccoa in Georgia.  Initially, to gain vehicles to display in the museum Sean offered storage and consignment.  The very first vehicle to be accepted in the museum belonged to the guy that installed the internet before the museum opened.

 

The original building MTT called home was an old Ford dealership and had less than 8,000 sq. ft. of space for vehicles and yet within months was filled with upwards of 50 vehicles.

 

By 2019 MTT had reached its full potential in its current location. If the museum was open it was because Sean was there and he did everything by himself.  About 50 vehicles had come and gone from the museum during this time, all of which were on display as museum exhibits.

 

miles through timemiles through time

 

Movie producers also started to notice the cars in the museum and have used 5 vehicles from MTT for movies included Sean's Pop's 1959 Cadillac which was used in the movie When We Last Spoke.

 

Even though a lot of great things had happened with MTT over the first few years, it was still not enough to keep the doors open.  Miles Through Time had generated income from consignment and some storage and some admission, but utilities and other bills were still more and Sean never took a salary.

 

The end was near in 2019 with a hard decision to make, but at the last minute a new door opened and the opportunity to move the museum to its new location inside of the Old Clarkesville Mill was exactly what was needed to keep the museum alive.

 

The new location is much bigger with room to grow and it is also home to Northeast Georgia's largest antique mall. Sean was able to come to an agreement with the antique mall owner which enabled the museum to mirror the antique malls hours of being open 7 days a week from 11 to 6 all year long, without Sean having to be there on a daily basis.

 

miles through timemiles through time

 

Although, this was great news to keep MTT alive, it did mean the museum was going to have to not only move but pretty much start over.  

 

With the exception of a handful of vehicles and the MTT brand, the museum had to be completely redone with a budget of zero dollars.

 

The first thing Sean did was turn the museum into a 501c3 nonprofit and stopped offering consignment.  Sean also brought on Truitt Phillips as an Executive Director. Truitt had been a part of MTT almost from the very beginning by embracing the concept and helping improve the museum without ever officially being a part of the museum.

 

In the new location Sean and Truitt really set out to create a real museum beyond just car on display.  They actually built an entire town inside the museum completely out of rough cut wood which was donated and reclaimed materials that were donated.

 

miles through timemiles through time

Before the town could be complete with the help of volunteers, COVID entered the picture.  All of the volunteers eventually stopped showing up which left Truitt and Sean to finish everything, including painting the 10,000 sq. ft. ceiling black.

 

With the exception of 10 days mandated by the governor, Sean and Truitt continued to slowly work on finishing the town enough to be able to open. By May 2020, 7 months after officially moving in the museum opened to the public.  

 

miles through timemiles through time

 

The original plan was a big grand reopening, but that was no longer possible.  Visitation was slow but eventually it did start to pick up and even though the first year of MTT was COVID stricken the improvements to the museum were so much better that admission in 2020 was higher than the first 3 years combined.

 

MTT is now coming up on its one year anniversary in the new location and has great plans to expand the museum by breaking through the back wall into the untapped space and triple the size of the museum.

 

miles through timemiles through time

 

The biggest difference Miles Through Time is to any other museum is that everything in the museum either belongs to other people or has been donated to the museum.  There is no rich benefactor to the museum and it is not one guys private collection.  MTT is a museum of the people that changes frequently and enables people the opportunity to be a part of the museum.

 

To learn more about Miles Through Time Automotive Museum visit milesthroughtime.com and follow on social media.

 

If you want to know where other really neat automotive museums are visit automotivemuseumguide.com

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