American House Museums in the 21st Century
An Athenæum of Philadelphia Symposium

The National Historic Landmark Athenæum Building
219 S. Sixth Street, East Washington Square
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

December 4 - 5, 1998

Papers and Presentations

Looking Back or Looking Forward?  House Museums in the 21st Century
Frank E. Sanchis, III,
Vice President, Stewardship of Historic Sites, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Forever the Same, Forever Changing: The Dilemma Facing Historic Houses
James C. Rees,
Resident Director, Mount Vernon

Biltmore Estate: As the Century Turns
William A. V. Cecil, Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Biltmore Estate

To Thine Own Self Be True: Making a Success of the Smaller Historic House Museum in the Twenty-first Century
John M. Groff,
Executive Director, The Wyck Association

Great Expectations: The Future of Historic House Museums in State History Programs
Donna Williams, Director, Bureau of Historic Sites & Museums, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Preservation for Pleasure: A New Life for Old Buildings through the Work of the Landmark Trust
Peter H. Pearce, Director, The Landmark Trust, England, UK
 

What is the future for American house museums in the next century?

Since the acquisition of the Jonathan Hasbrouck House by the State of New York in 1850, American house museums open to the public have proliferated.  One study estimates the number at nearly 8,000.  Some house museums are independent, privately funded, not-for-profit corporations; many are operated by regional organizations; an even greater number are owned by public agencies at the state and local level.  A few of these operations have multi-million dollar program budgets and have professional staffs -- most notably high-visibility sites such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, Biltmore, and San Simeon -- and count their visitation in the hundreds of thousands.  But most American house museums have budgets smaller that $50,000, few full-time employees, and annual attendance less than 5,000.

Regardless of size or importance, many house museums are confronting a crisis brought on by inadequate and declining resources, deferred maintenance, an aging pool of volunteers, and falling attendance.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that there may be too many house museums.

This symposium, underwritten by The Barra Foundation Fund at The Athenæum of Philadelphia, brings together several authorities in the management of historic buildings who will assess the current state of American house museums, and explore alternative sources of support for those that will survive -- and alternative uses for properties that may not continue as traditional house museums.

Photo credits: Top photograph of Lemon Hill (1800), Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, PA, photograph by Tom Crane.  Lower photograph of Powel House (1765), Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, photograph by Tom Crane