Alternatives to Preserve Treasured Historic Buildings—standing room at NJ HP conference

This past week I spoke at the New Jersey Historic Preservation Conference held at Monmouth University on two different panels.  We had a packed house– standing room only– for a presentation on alternatives to historic house museums.  Mark Else and Ann Rosenblum gave fine presentations about their respective organizations, The Meadows Foundation and the Kennedy Martin Stelle Farmstead, both in New Jersey.  Our panel  “Does it Have to be a House Museum? Alternatives to Preserve Treasured Historic Buildings” was geared to historic site stewards who are seeking other uses for historic buildings than traditional historic house museums.

The Meadows Foundation in Franklin Township, operates on behalf of the Township, six historic buildings, and only one is used as an historic house museum. The rest are open for visitors and pubic programming. Each property has a resident caretaker, who lives in an apartment in the building or an ancillary structure. They provide security and open the property for public events. All of these buildings have been restored, a project taking more than 20 years, according to Mark Else, the Executive Director.  The most recent project,  a barn restoration is now complete, and the property will be used for rentals such as weddings and other functions.  Learn more about this organization at www.themeadowsfoundation.org.

Ann Rosenblum discussed the ten-year restoration effort of the Kennedy Martin Stelle Farmstead, whose buildings are being restored as a cultural center for Basking Ridge area in Somerset County.  Ann, who is the current President of the all volunteer organization, spoke about the survey conducted by the steering committee to determine uses for this complex of buildings, which indicated a strong interest in an arts center use rather than a traditional house museum or agricultural museum.  Today the site offers music and art lessons, artist’s studios, spaces for concerts and performances. Learn more here.

For my portion of the panel, I gave an overview of some new research I have conducted about new Resident Curator program in Connecticut; placing easements on former historic  house museums, and the work being undertaken by the Ohio Historical Society to find local organizations to take on the operation and management of a host of state owned historic  sites.

I was surprised and pleased with this turn out and with the questions from the audience.  Most were interested in the Resident Curator program, and asked about practical issues for managing and policing the work of the selected curator. I have written several blog posts about Resident Curators, see them here, and here.

The turnout gave me hope that perhaps now, four years after the publication of my book, New Solutions for House Museums, the time is ripe for historic house museums to broaden their appeal to their communities by thinking about and implementing new uses. Attached is a copy of my PowerPoint presentation here  NJHP conf handouts Donna Ann Harris House Museums