Earlier this week I led a workshop on reinventing historic house museums at two great National Parks—Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller in Vermont and Saint-Gaudens in New Hampshire—with Ken Turino of Historic New England. The National Park Service and the American Association for State and Local History co-sponsored this workshop to help their staff rethink the tours of the historic houses at these two sites, especially for visitors under 35 years of age. Using such tools as the Five Forces and a Double-Bottom Line Matrix along with a smorgasbord of ideas from other sites, we explored possible processes and projects that could improve and enhance their tours. Our goal wasn’t to provide solutions but to raise many useful questions, including:
- Would treating tours of the house as an educational program encourage alternative approaches to their planning and development? By calling them “tours,” do we limit the possibilities through our assumptions about the tour experience?
- Is there a sufficient market for visitors under 35 years of age? How many people under 35 live in the local community? Why is this site relevant to them? Should we tweak existing programs that already reach them rather than create a new tour to appeal to them?
- Do different audiences prefer different types of tours, such as guided versus stationed? Are the tours conveniently scheduled for these audiences?
- Should we conduct a community assessment to better understand their interests, motivations, and perceptions of the parks? Would our partners be interested in using this research to improve their programs and activities?
This workshop was held at the Forest Center at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. Not only was this an ideal setting for this workshop with a comfortable meeting space, kitchen, and restrooms, but it was the first building in Vermont to achieve LEED Platinum, fitting in perfectly with the park’s mission of environmental conservation. Smith, Alvarez, Sienkiewycz, Architects completed the beautifully designed building in 2008 using lumber harvested from the property. There were lots of nice touches that made this building a stand out, but I really liked the elegant identification of the woods used in its construction in the walls of the lobby.