For Further Reading 4

Recent reading on House Museums:

I also was able to hear Frank Vagnone speak recently, the founder of the “Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums.”  I greatly understood the frustration that led him to create the book and his consulting practice — it’s scary how many history museums can bore or irritate historians, let alone the general public.  It really was inspirational to hear from Vagnone ways that house museums could be better, and to hear about efforts currently underway in many places.

We have quite a few historic house museums in South Dakota, as well as other historical villages et al., and they’re managed with varied levels of success.  A big problem is that limited visitorship (and/or limited volunteer availability) has meant that open hours are also limited, or unusual times, like only for two hours on a couple days during the work week… so actually visiting is tricky.   Most have an online presence somewhere, so that’s something.  And we don’t have nearly as many as some other parts of the country that are super-saturated.  All that said, however, programming options tend to be limited to tours, velvet ropes and “do not touch” are standard, and the stories told aren’t particularly complex.  Do SD museums in historic places that weren’t houses still telling the story of their building(s) and landscapes for visitors…?

House museums in South Dakota that I’ve visited–and these (I think) do relatively a good job with programming and/or storytelling, and have beautiful properties:

Others I’ve been inside, but not as a traditional visitor:

  • Austin-Whittemore House, Vermillion
  • Murtha House, Elk Point (until 2013 was a private residence, also barns, brick kiln ruins, and grounds — I hope improvements for the house and exhibits are still in progress)

Still on my list:

What South Dakota house museums have you visited?  Did you take a tour, go to an event or program?  What did you think were the best parts, the meh parts, and the irritating parts?  Would you go back?  Did you give feedback to the museum itself?

[Update 2018]:
I’ve now been to the Stavig House and the Pickler Mansion.  Both have excellent buildings and collections–incredible for how much is actually from those houses and families.  Both times were sort of non-standard tours, one for work and the other with a special group, so I assume the regular tours are fine.  Both use students/interns for tour guides.

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