You have a new facility for your community museum’s collection. Well, it’s “new,” in a way. It’s an old house with some meaningful and teachable connections to the community’s evolution. Its five-acre lot also has potential for outdoor entertainment and fundraising events.

Studies have shown that a visitor’s (and a potential donor’s) first impressions, for better or worse, are often the most lasting. And those impressions, more often than not, are of how well we maintain our structures and landscapes.

Look at them as artifacts in their own right. A leaky roof, broken window pane, cracked sidewalk, and poor drainage pose as great a threat as dust, molds, excess humidity, and unfiltered light. These are, in fact, often the root causes of those conditions.

Time’s a wastin’! There’s plenty to do in order to prepare for a Museum Assessment Program (MAP) and those interminable meetings with structural and landscape consultants:

  • Inspect the condition of the entire property inside and out – from the roof and chimney to the basement, yard and beyond.
  • Inventory the existing plants and trees.
  • Read up on the latest in conservation literature.
  • Research the building’s history, its owners, and its past use.
  • See how the property’s relationship with the surrounding neighborhood changed over time.
  • Write down any questions you’ll want to ask the structural and landscape consultants.
  • Ask yourself what story, lessons, and environmentally sustainable practices you want to include in your museum’s operations and revised mission statement.

These initial steps will prepare you to answer questions asked by your consultants as you evaluate your museum’s significance. The answers to these questions and the priorities you establish may change as your structural and landscape consultants reveal unique possibilities, unforeseen realities, and likely costs.

For a more detailed discussion, check out “Straight Talk About Historic Structures and Landscapes,” in the Small Museum Toolkit, published by AltaMira Press.

Bruce Teeple is a freelance writer, editor, local historian, speaker, gardener, wine maker, chicken farmer, and columnist for the Centre Daily Times in State College. Pennsylvania. A graduate of Penn State in history and political science, he served for nineteen years as curator of the Aaronsburg Historical Museum before joining AASLH’s Small Museums Committee. He is currently researching and writing As Good as a Handshake: the Farringtons and the Political Culture of Moonshine in Central Pennsylvania. His latest work is “Slavery In Post-Abolition Pennsylvania….And How They Got Away With It.”