“The era of historic houses has passed. There are too many houses out there that are becoming stagnant or shrines to an old way of life or a disappearing family,” states Jonathan Maney of the Hyde Hall Mansion of Springfield Center, New York, “In order to stay relevant these museums must begin looking at what other contributions they can bring to their surrounding society.”
With this in mind, many of today’s historic house museums are turning to creative and unorthodox ways to not only bring in revenue, but to attract a completely new generation of visitors. John James Audobon’s Mills Grove estate in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania has been completely repurposed from a replication of the author’s home to an art center. The Olana Partnership in Hudson, New York has not completely changed their mission, but has decided to expand their interpretation into what was once a story about Frederick E. Church into a concentration on American painting as whole.
Museum professionals are making strides in their attempts to keep these historic houses relevant and exciting while still bringing in the revenue to maintain the historic value of the property. Does the prestige or value of a historic house plummet if it is converted into a Bed & Breakfast or taken up as a private residence? How do we decide what sites are more relevant than others, and which ones should be preserved solely as museums?