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  • options other than creating or continuing struggling museums
  • Point 1: After they save it, though, what do they do with it? They are emotionally invested in the site and don’t trust a private owner to value it as much as they do. They choose a nonprofit museum use by instinct or by default, but are unaware of the cost, skills, and experience necessary to run a museum.The house museum is not always the best fit for maintaining a historic house. Often the best solution is to find a sympathetic owner who loves the house and retains its original use as a home.
  • And we wonder why they are failing…
  • Point 3: an example: there are over 275 house museums in the Philadelphia area more than 100 are examples of 18th century domestic architecture most discuss merchants and wealth almost none mention women none mention slaves, though they were crucial to making that wealth fewer than 10 of the 275 mention any other type of history only 3 are 20th century structures only 5 are representative of African-American history
  • Point 1: Most board members are in their 70s and 80s Baby boomers have other priorities (retirement, families, etc.) Younger generations (yours and mine) not being asked to serve on boards or committees.Point 2: Can’t sustain a membership drive or solicit individuals for gifts Not tapping into generational wealth transfersPoint 3: Small maintenance needs turn into big ones if neglectedPoint 4: Compete for visitor time and dollars with a wide range of leisure activities. being open regular hours is a challenge to all-volunteer museums.
  • Study Houses: Historic New EnglandReprogram for Mission Based Use: Nantucket Historical AssociationCo-Stewardship Agreements: Historic Adams House, Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation TrustAsset Transfer and Merger: Margaret Mitchell House and Museum and the Atlanta History Center, Cliveden of the National Trust and Historic Upsala FoundationLong-term Leases: Hazelwood of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning CommissionShort-term Leases: Heritage Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services, Fairmount Park Historic Preservation TrustSale to a Private Owner with Easements: Elfreth’s Alley Association, Robert E. Lee Boyhood HomeSale to a Nonprofit Stewardship Organization: Casa Amesti Foundation, Heurich House FoundationDonation to a Governmental Entity: Adel Historical Society
  • Determine the current condition of your house museum by reading down the left hand column of this chart. The various options are listed along the top of the page. The more stars pictured in each box, the more feasible this choice would be.


  • 1. Kimberly Finzel
    Anthropology 577
    Ball State University
    April 26, 2010
  • 2. Donna Ann Harris
    Altamira Press, 2007
    260 pages
  • 3.
  • 4. Designed for board and staff members of nonprofit-owned historic house museums that are struggling with insufficient funds or people power to sustain their site to the level that their historic building needs and deserves.
    Provides new solutions for house museums that cannot be sustained long-term.
    Outlines eight techniques currently in use by nonprofit and government owners of historic houses to sustain the sites long-term.
  • 5. Part I
    Assessment and Decision Making
    Current Trends in Historic House Museums
    Is This Your House Museum?
    Legal and Ethical Issues
    The Decision-Making Process
    Making the Transition
    • Most House Museums were created by volunteer preservationists who saw the house being threatened and wanted to retain the structure as part of the historic fabric of the community.
    • 7. House Museums must be heavily subsidized in order to pay for house maintenance and the staff to run them.
    • 8. Unfortunately, most house museums are only locally significant, and don’t attract enough financial support (through tourism) to remain solvent.
  • Many historic house stewards make the unconscious or conscious choice not to address deterioration of the house, since it is easier to do nothing.
    However, it is the obligation of the stewards of the property to plan for the future and ensure that the work of the past does not end in deterioration and abandonment.
  • 9. Some House Museum Statistics
    Twenty years ago there were 5,000 house museums in the United States.
    Ten years ago there were more than 8,000.
    59% began operating prior to the 1960s.
    70% are in rural locations or places with populations under 50,000 people.
    54% receive fewer than 5,000 visitors a year.
    65% have no full-time staff.
    80% have annual budgets of less than $50,000.
    A new house museum is created every 3.5 days.
  • 10. House museums appeal to both preservationists and the public because of their familiarity. However, without active interpretation a house is a dead artifact.
    Want to honor and romanticize local forefathers.
    Interpretations are often generic.
  • 11. Some problems with house museums.
    Aging boards.
    Few endowments and little planned giving.
    Deferred maintenance obligations.
    Visitor services.
    • Five scenarios depicting fictional historic house museumsand their challenges:
    • 13. Deferred Maintenance
    • 14. An Aging Board of Directors
    • 15. No Endowment or Organizational Reserves
    • 16. Dwindling Attendance, Increased Competition
    • 17. Relevance to the Local Community
    • General Responsibilities of the Board.
    • 18. Attorney General’s Office.
    • 19. Responsibilities and Solutions for the five fictional challenges.
    • 20. Container or Real Estate Investment?
    • 21. Future Maintenance and Restoration
    • 22. Cyclical maintenance.
    Board communicates to Membership
    about progress of search for preferred
    Board manages communication with
    Stakeholders and the public through a
    • Celebrating the Transition.
    • 24. An Educational Component.
    • 25. A Permanent Reminder.
    • 26. A Living Legacy for Future Generations.
  • Part II
    Solutions and Case Studies
    Eight Solutions Explained
    Case Study: Study Houses
    Case Study: Reprogram for Mission-Based Use
    Case Studies: Co-Stewardship Agreements
    Case Studies: Asset Transfer and Merger
    Case Study: Long-term Leases
    Case Studies: Short-term Leases
    Case Studies: Sale to a Private Owner with Easements
    Case Studies: Sale to a Nonprofit Stewardship Organization
    Case Study: Donation to a Governmental Entity
    • A variety of possible ownership and reuse solutions that have been successfully tried.
    • 28. Find a use that fits the house, rather than fitting the use into the house.
    • 29. Minimizes destruction of historic fabric.
    • 30. Small size of domestic buildings means fewer reuse options.
    • 31. Sites with more acreage or outbuildings will have more choices.
    • 32. Condition of the building, setting, and zoning laws must be considered.
    • 33. Two possible choices:
    • 34. Retain ownership of the site
    • 35. Donate the site
  • Reuse Options Based on the Condition of the Historic House Museum Building
    KEY: ***excellent solution **possible solution *unlikely solution
  • 36. Reuse Options Based on the Condition of the Historic House Museum Building
  • 37. Retain ownership of the historic building
    Five options:
    Continue to manage the site but reprogram it as a study house with limited visitation.
    Continue to manage the site but reprogram it for another mission-based use.
    Give up daily management, and enter into a formal co-stewardship or cooperative relationship with another house museum organization to operate and manage the house museum.
    Dissolve the corporation and merge with another nonprofit to manage the property as a house museum.
    Give up daily management, and enter into a long-term management or lease agreement with another nonprofit or for-profit that manages the property for a house museum or another adaptive use.
  • 38. Sale or donation of the property, with protective easements
    Three options:
    Sell the house to a private owner with easements
    Sell to a nonprofit stewardship organization with easements
    Donate the site to a government or other nonprofit entity.
    • 40. Solutions for museums having operational issues, preservation concerns, or financial problems.
    • 41. Many of the responsibilities of house museum boards are also our responsibilities as the creators of the current museum exhibition.