A History Success Story

You and I know that small museums and historic sites all over the country are struggling to demonstrate value to their communities, funding bodies, and boards.

What if there was a way for even the smallest volunteer-run organizations to make radical shifts towards sustainable practices?

What if you could help struggling museums and historic sites successfully communicate their unique value to all stakeholders?



Tori Mason, Historic Site Manager at Grassmere Historic Farm

I am writing today to tell you about one such success story, an outcome of an AASLH program. Thanks to AASLH’s Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs), the Grassmere Historic Farm at the Nashville Zoo has been able to implement best practices at their 1810 Croft House and secure funding for new collections software and other important collections-care items.

But even more importantly, as Historic Site Manager Tori Mason explains, AASLH’s StEPs program gave her the tools to share the value of her site with the zoo’s board and get its members invested in the historic farm’s development and success.

“StEPs has helped everyone on an administrative level not directly associated with the historic site understand the importance of taking care of what we have, and has led to a deeper understanding of museum standards and why they matter.” 

When Tori took over management of Grassmere in 2012, she had thirty years of animal management under her belt, but zero experience managing a historic house museum. Like so many in our field, she had to learn on the job. Thanks to AASLH’s StEPs program, Grassmere has become a true success story in only three years.


The Croft House at Grassmere Historic Farm

The Croft House at Grassmere Historic Farm

Any history organization can join the Standards and Excellence Program. The StEPs workbook guides them through implementing best practices, and AASLH maintains an online community of fellow organizations working through the same challenges. Anytime guidance is needed, AASLH’s staff is at the ready provide help. Whenever possible, AASLH connects organizations with the local StEPs groups that we’ve helped to form.

Since AASLH launched StEPs in 2009, more than 800 history organizations like Tori’s have enrolled and committed to becoming stronger, more focused, and more sustainable.

You can help AASLH continue running StEPs and other important programs designed to build strong, vibrant history organizations. I am asking each member to contribute $50, $175, $250 or more to the AASLH Annual Fund before the end of the year.

In 2013, AASLH invited the Grassmere Historic Farm to join a StEPs group AASLH created. Through this group, Tori met regularly with nine other small museums to work through each section of the program.

These meetings were critical to her success with the program:

“The group meetings helped us all stay accountable, helped us work through common problems and struggles, helped us come up with creative solutions… It helped give us all a stronger sense of community.”

StEPs helped Tori and her unpaid staff focus on their work. The Grassmere farm had been under private ownership until 1997, and it was donated with an amazing collection of artifacts…not a single one of which was documented. Using StEPs and other AASLH resources, Tori and her volunteers spent their first year in the program developing a collections policy from scratch.


Grassmere Historic Farm at the Nashville Zoo

Grassmere Historic Farm at the Nashville Zoo

After joining the StEPs group, Tori applied for an AASLH scholarship to our Annual Meeting. She won the scholarship, and spent four days at her first national history conference:

“For my first AASLH conference, I felt like a sponge soaking up everything I could. I made lasting connections, learned valuable and practical information, and experienced real history, all in one place.”

In only a few years, Tori and her volunteers have demonstrated the value of this historic site, and the importance of striving for national standards. They now have a great collections policy, a volume of AASLH’s Nomenclature 4.0 cataloging system on their shelves, supplies to start numbering and identifying collections, and money in the budget to purchase top-of-the-line collections software (discounted thanks to their AASLH membership).

When I asked Tori how she was able to make so much progress in such a short time, she told me “It was all because of StEPs.”

Stories like this­—this is why we devote our time and passion to this field. I know you want to see every history museum and historic site thriving as much as I do.

Donate to AASLH today and help us create more history success stories. Give online or print this form to give $50, $175, or $250 to the health and future of the field. Your donation matters. Your generous gift will help us to better serve museums and historic sites all over the country with important program like StEPs.



John Dichtl
President & CEO
American Association for State and Local History

P.S. AASLH is planning to make some large updates and additions to the StEPs workbook and program in 2017. Nearly half of all AASLH members work at organizations with budgets of $250,000 or less. Help us get this invaluable tool into the hands of directors, curators, managers, and volunteers who need it. Donate today online or by mail.


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