Historic houses are great institutions. People can step into them, and for a while, feel as if they have stepped back in time to a moment in history long forgotten. It is always exciting to visit a new town or city and look to see if there is a popular historic house to visit. But what about all of the many historic houses that are not attracting visitors? According to The PEW Charitable Trust, as of 2008 there may have been as many as 15,000 historic house museums, or as many as four for every county in the country. Is America struggling to maintain and run too many historic houses? And if so, which ones do we keep open, and what do we do with the rest?
These are important questions to ask, because these houses are important to at least some number of people, hence why they are open in the first place. How can historic houses remain important and relevant? One option is to focus on how the historic house is presenting its content. In today’s world, people love to interact with objects to gain understanding and knowledge. So perhaps the tendency to have one docent overwhelming crowds with facts and information for an hour or more should be rethought. Historic homes should be more interaction with immersion or hands on opportunities with the site’s objects. This will enhance learning and interest.
Historic Houses should also reach out to schools. They should work to create school programs, which cover necessary state objectives so as to be purposeful and interesting to children. In doing so, historic houses will remain important and relevant in addition to raising a new generation of museum enthusiasts who will in turn bring their children to historic homes.
The historic houses that do not have access to regular visitors or school groups need to repurpose. The building can be saved and maintained and then rented out as a personal home. Additionally, old houses have been used successfully as office space, art centers or even venues for weddings. These homes do not always need, and often should not, be made into museums.
People go to museums and historic houses to see how these institutions connect to them and their families’ past. By involving visitors and actively including school groups, historic homes become more fun and interesting. If the historic house is simply not drawing in people the way it should, then it is perfectly acceptable, and wise, to repurpose the building. If historic homes all over the country follow one of these two paths then they will remain important institutions worth visiting for decades to come.