Most historic houses throughout the United States still rely upon the traditional model of filling rooms with furniture from a particular time period, but this strong devotion to furnishings is likely to make the history less engaging to many visitors. Some historic houses have altered rooms to serve a more functional educational purpose, like Audubon’s Mill Grove Home, while others, such as President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington DC, have made greater deviations from the traditional model in order to provide an experience that is more relevant to the current values, concerns, and interests of the surrounding community.
However, the success of the multimedia approach favored by Lincoln’s Cottage does not suggest that objects need to be completely removed in order to promote a stronger connection with the community. The development of special programs can fulfill this role. Using outdoor spaces for community event and gardens can help to strengthen the role of a historic house as a center for community education and discussion. Programs like the Hull House’s “Re-Thinking Soup,” which engages the community in discussion by offering a free meal, provide for the unique physical and educational needs of the community. Other programs can be as simple as offering ESL courses to immigrants. Not every historic house is suited to adopt such programs, but those that can will likely become significant components of community life in their neighborhoods. In order to sustain their role as educators, historic houses must develop new and innovative programs that fulfill the needs of their communities.
Posted by Keith Sten
Barrientos, Tanya. “Houses, Histories and the Future.” In “What To Do With These Old Houses,” National Trust Magazine briefing (Spring 2008): 2. http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=38618.
Sorin, Gretchen Sullivan. “What Do We Do With All of This Stuff?” Newsletter of the Historic House Trust of New York City, 6 no. 2 (Spring 2011): 3-6. http://www.historichousetrust.org/page.php?p_id=95