HHMs, Duke Farms, and Relevance

Vagnone’s “Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums” might not be as revolutionary as the title (as many of us have noted), but it is still practical, much needed advice. As Amelia noted, many historic house museums are behind the curve of accessibility and relating to visitors, so a more middle-of-the-road approach to programming and visitor relations might work best.

Sometimes, though, museums take a more drastic, new approach to programming. Reading Vagnone and Simon, I was reminded of the historic house museum – Duke Farms – that demolished its historic home. Well, the property was really preserved for the landscape and because it was owned by the tobacco money heiress Doris Duke, but it also included a 1893 historic structure that was torn down just last year. Doris Duke created foundations for her other homes based on their architecture, but Duke Farms’ was meant to preserve the farm and property. Over time, the mission evolved to “inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land” and inspire “people to transform their approach to conservation” (About Duke Farms 1).

The historic home was never designed as an architectural beauty – it was only meant as a temporary home while the family waited for a nicer house to be be built (which never was). Demolishing the house created controversy in the New Jersey community, but also perfectly followed Simon’s advice on relevancy. The home did not hold any particular historic value, and demolishing it allowed Duke Farms to further realize its mission of protecting the landscape and providing recreation space for visitors.

Image Source:  http://www.nj.com/somerset/index.ssf/2016/03/demolition_of_doris_duke_mansion_has_begun.html 

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