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Driving the Imagination

November 12, 2009

Red Coats Toasting the Ladies of the House, by Howard Pyle

It gets dark so early now.  My little family was nearing the end of a long drive home, zooming along the interstate.  It was dark out with nothing much to see out the windows but the lights of cars on the highway and splotches of billboards and strip malls that we passed at high speed.  One kid was asleep, the other was bored, bored, bored.

As we approached our exit, I remembered that Hope Lodge was hosting a Revolutionary War Re-enactment that weekend.  “When I tell you, look out your window,” I alerted my eldest son.

Wow, he breathed.  There was darkness, broken by the shimmer of fires, the glow of tents and the silhouettes of men moving and tall trees towering.  The large stone house stood at the center of it, silent witness to one more event in centuries of watching.  

It flashed by in a few seconds and was gone from view.

The scene captured his imagination.  He started talking about the contrast between our cars on the highway and the life of a colonial.  “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could, like, layer the lives so that there’d be ghosts of people from that time, and horses and carriages and the houses and roads from then?”  He tried to imagine how alarmed people from that time would be to see our cars and the fast ribbon of light that is a modern highway at night.  He pondered the intersection of it all.  And I did too.

musket manThen, heading through the EZ pass lane, I started wondering why it’s called a “re-enactment” — I mean, it’s called that for obvious reasons.  But isn’t it obvious that it’s a re-enactment?  Is it possible it might feel more authentic and have more appeal if it were simply called a Revolutionary Camp out?  Could they raise money to support the site by inviting interested kids or boy scouts or birthday party kids to come spend the night too, just as they do these days in natural history museums and aquariums (“Try sleeping with the fishes!”).

Hope Lodge is state-owned, has had its budget cut, and its small staff isn’t able to do a great job attracting visitors, publicizing events or creating new and innovative programs to build a broad new customer base.   There’s the plant sale, the car show, the sheep shearing and colonial cooking demos — the same sorts of events one finds at historic sites everywhere else as they struggle to stay alive.

hat guyAnd though drivers on the highway or the local road admire the stately building and appreciate the green space filled with this year’s soybean or corn crop, it’s not clear whether Hope Lodge as we know it now will be around much longer.  

The site (and other state-owned sites) have begun a series of meetings and discussions to consider future options.   The Hope Lodge website lists these possibilities:

Ownership/Management Alternatives

  1. Not-for-profit
  2. State
  3. County
  4. Township (Whitemarsh)
  5. DCNR (part of Fort Washington State Park)
  6. Corporate
  7. Academic (University, College, etc.)
  8. For-profit company
  9. Other Private Ownership
  10. Public-private combination

Use Concepts

  1. Historic Farm and Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) Farm
  2. Historic laboratory / Education facility for Professionals
  3. Student use (Vocational, farming, landscaping, art)
  4. Recreational use (athletic fields, etc.)
  5. Continue use as is

Do you know of a site that has faced these challenges?  Do you have ideas for a new model, innovative practices?  What do you think these underfunded sites should do?

I would love to see these discussions spread beyond “the usual suspects” within the history and preservation communities.  The old historic house museum model is a mobius strip that always seems to come back to the same place.  These sites need new thinking, new funding sources, new ideas for innovative community partnerships, social networking, retailing, daily use and ___________(fill in the blank with your own thought)

Pull on your brainstorming cap!

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