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?


The Renaissance of the Homestake Opera House

In 1984, the theater of the Homestake Opera House burned.  A two-story on Main Street, but with the city of Lead’s steep topography, it’s a three story building at the alley where the theater is located.  The blaze took a long time to extinguish.  An expedient roof was put over the space, but the restoration of the damaged theater is still ongoing.  In recent years, an active schedule of plays, weddings, and other community events has brought renewed energy into seeing a renaissance for the Homestake Opera House.  The newest project is an Interpretive Center telling the history of the opera house and Lead.  They’ll soon be continuing restoration on the decorative plaster and box seats in the theater.


The street façade of the Homestake Opera House, Lead. Photograph by author, March 2016.

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Fish on a Train: A Visit to the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery

Through the viewing tunnel that goes below the water.

Through the viewing tunnel that goes below the water.

Recently, I visited the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish with some friends.  I’d been there once before for a brief stop, was able to go into some of the museum buildings this time, but still want to go back and linger a while.  Despite proposals to close the facility and cuts in staff, it’s had a few reprieves and, at least for the time being, continues to serve the community, teach about our history and natural world, and raise 20,000-30,000 trout annually.  The volunteers who work with about 150,000 visitors each year are doing a fantastic job.  Those I met were very friendly and welcoming.  The Booth Society, the partner non-profit, seems to manage the bulk of visitor and educational services and grounds maintenance.  In the news and on Facebook, I’ve seen that the site participates widely in school group tours, concert series, fairs, and even artist paint-ins.  The tourism value makes a big economic impact (link here to 2013 study published in Tourism Management).  The visit is free (except for food to feed the trout – which is super fun), but tourists buy gas, stay in hotels, go out to eat afterwards… and places like this make travel adventures special.

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Engaging, Quaint, or Bat Sh*t Crazy: Heritage Tourism in South Dakota

This week I read a great post on History@Work (link below) reflecting on heritage tourism.  Joe Watkins (Chief, Tribal Relations and American Cultures, National Park Service, WASO) writes about how heritage tourism has been impacted by technology, by tentative inclusiveness, and by its own profitability since 1991.  It made me think about heritage tourism in South Dakota, and how there is such a wide range between historically-accurate, informative, and engaging sites; the cluttered attic-like sites that are good for quaint nostalgia, and the… um, scarier sites that can be downright dangerous.

I still have a mile-long to-do list for visiting historic sites in South Dakota, especially West River, but here are observations from my regrettably limited experience… I really have to get on the road this summer… Continue reading