Warwick residents re-imagine historic museums for the future

by Christine Wolkin

On Saturday, January 21st, members of Warwick Township Historical Society packed into a crowded room in the Historic Moland House to listen to nationally recognized leader and scholar in the historical museum field, Barbara Franco, present a program on “Re-imagining Historic Museums for the Future.”

Barbara, who served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission and past chairman of the American Association for State and Local Histories, came to address the issue of declining visitation to historical homes in communities around the country and to provide resources and approaches for bringing visitors to their doors.

“As our volunteers are aging, how do we pass on our love of history?” She asked the crowd of more than 50 individuals.

With more than 15,000 historic houses in the United States alone (an average of four per county), the issue of declining participation and therefore financial support, is a serious one.

“Over the years, we have learned that saving and restoring an historical house is one challenge; running and maintaining the house is another matter entirely,” she said.

Barbara listed four main tactics for attracting the public to visit these homes. First, enlarge the story. Think Downton Abbey, she said. Give visitors a look inside what living during that historical time felt like.

Second, less is more. Focus on the important stories that connect us as people to the past. Third, connect to community needs. Engage and encourage volunteers and use the house’s unique history to set it apart from other historical house museums.

Lastly, she says, make the experience an interactive one. Reenactments and demonstrations are a great way to bring the history to life for guests.

Barbara is no stranger to the Moland House. In fact, she was present at the dedication of the historical building more than a decade ago on August 21st, 2004.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Cooperstown Graduate Program of Museum Studies, her accomplishments include curator and assistant director of the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, MA, director for museums at the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as president and CEO of the Historical Society of Washington D.C., where she helped found their City Museum.

Barbara now works as a museum consultant.

“We love historic houses because they preserve the historical landscape of our communities,” said Barbara.

If communities implement the tactics and tools Barbara presented, that love for history will shine through to visitors and ensure the status of historic homes for years to come.

PHOTO CAP: Barbara Franco addresses the audience at Moland House.