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The Value of Small House Museums

by Kathy Lang on

I just read an article about a controversy questioning the need to keep house museums open. That may not be exactly how the article phrased it, but the words used seemed to be saying that all of these museums had similar set-ups and types of volunteers, and glorified a person that was probably only important in that community, but nowhere else. The argument also went that house museums were under-funded and siphoned funds needed elsewhere.

Grant-Kohrs_RanchI may not always be up on the latest news, but how long have people been saying this?

My first internship was at a historical society and house museum, and I loved going there. There was so much to learn and discover! I can’t tell you who owned the house, now, but I can tell you about the dresses that were there and how to clean them.

My first job with the National Park Service was at a site where the house was the major feature. Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a small site that made its way into the NPS because of its national significance in the cattle industry. That small site still has its original furniture, farm implements, horse gear, and business papers. Here I learned how to vacuum carpet on a low setting with a mesh square. I shoveled historic cow poop out of a railroad car. It was my first chance to work with other museum staff members and interpreters. Visitors coming through the site shared stories and asked  questions that made us think and re-visit what we said and did.

To me, small house museums are not static places. Every one of them is a community deserving respect, regardless of whether staff members are gray-haired volunteers, or if they’re only open a few days a week.

How can you resist taking a tour of one when you pass by?

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