After months of research, the Granite Falls Historical Society moved one step closer to developing a interpretive plan for the historic Volstead House. The GFHS, which owns and manages the building, has been exploring ways to update the structure, which is one of just 25 National Historic Landmarks in the state of Minnesota. In early 2017, they partnered with Museology Museum Services, which is a consulting firm based out of Minneapolis that specializes in museum planning.
The Volstead House was built in 1878 shortly after the founding of Granite Falls. It was purchased by local lawyer Andrew Volstead, who would later represent western Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1903 and 1923. He owned the house until 1930, after which it passed hands several times before it was finally made into a museum by the Minnesota Association of Co-Operatives and given to the city of Granite Falls in 1979.
Back in December, Erin Anderson and Bret Pearson from Museology presented their draft report to GFHS members and local residents interested in the Volstead house. They began by identifying the needs of the GFHS regarding changes they hope to implement at the house.
Top priorities included adding additional hours, better storage of historical artifacts, age-appropriate programs, events, and exhibits that meet the needs of an increasingly diverse public, and additional capacity through technology, community resources, and grants.
Museology also identified additional considerations that GFHS should keep in mind as they move forward with their planning. Pearson stressed that it was important to balance the personal and public side images of the Volstead family. Both aspects, she argued, still have contemporary relevance that should be emphasized in new programs and exhibits.
Anderson emphasized the importance of viewing the house as both a museum and an historical artifact, but cautioned against rushing the implementation of the plan to meet the centennial anniversary of the passage of the Volstead Act in 2019.
These early planning conversations provide a “great opportunity to expand the museum’s visibility in the community and beyond, but it must be a functional tool and a living document that guides the Society’s work and is revisited and evaluated annually,” she said in the presentation.
Museology offered a series of informal recommendations which they say will help the GFHS achieve its goals. Among the suggestions are increased site accessibility and community presence, more inclusive narratives, and building a museum collection that supports the GFHS mission and interpretive themes.
Anderson told the meeting attendees that one way to build greater visibility was through the development of “an advisory committee of volunteers, neighbors, and other community members.” She also suggested that they create an editorial calendar to highlight important milestones and anniversaries.
To create a more inclusive exhibit narrative, Anderson said the GFHS should highlight the stories of other members of the Volstead family such as Nellie (Andrew’s wife) and Laura (their daughter) that emphasize their “individual achievements as well as their contributions to Andrew’s political career, life in the Volstead home, and role in the community.” To do this, Museology recommended that the museum have written interpretive manuals for consistent and accurate tours.
Another area of interest during the meeting was how to organize and display the vast historical collection held in the house (and other items currently held off-site). Anderson suggested that the GFHS create a Collections Management Policy and Procedures Manual to better organize their collection. She also said they will have to strike a balance between preserving items and also making them accessible to visitors.
Having interpretive plan recommendations is a big step forward. It allows the GFHS to better understand what they want to accomplish. In the coming months, the GFHS will continue working with Museology to create and put together timeline, assess costs, and evaluate implementation strategies.
For more information on the Granite Falls Historical Society, the Volstead House, or how to get involved, please (320) 564-4039 or leave a comment on their website (http://gfhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/).