How do you share the history of your historic house or site during rental events?

At Indiana Landmarks’ 1865 Morris-Butler House we’ve been asking ourselves the same question. We recently transitioned from a historic house museum to an historic venue that serves as flexible event space for our public events and for private rental events.

Gascoine 2

Morris-Butler House Parlor; photo credit Stewart Imagery

We maintain the historical ambiance of the house through period furnishings and finishes. Rental clients and their guests love this intimate Victorian setting for small weddings and events, but often have questions about the history of the house – Who lived here? Was this their stuff? When was the house built?

Our staff (well, ok, my boss and I – we are a small historic site after all) are in the process of figuring out how to anticipate and answer these questions.

As a historic site that offered guided house tours for 43 years, we’re not used to hosting events where there isn’t some direct way for staff or volunteers to talk to guests about our history. Now, as we are no longer a museum, and are in the midst of a deaccessioning project, we no longer give tours, and only the first of three floors is open to the public for events.

We’ve found a few ways to weave our story into rentals. One rental client invited me to speak to their guests on the history of the house for 15 minutes during their event. Other rental clients have heard the history of the house during their rental tour when they’re booking the space. We’re also considering signage or interpretive panels that could answer common questions and identify rooms and key historical facts.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far and currently do:

  • Our rental clients and guests are interested in our history and preservation! That’s why they book rentals at our site.
  • We take every opportunity we can to share our story. Sometimes that means we greet guests as they arrive for their Victorian Tea birthday party. Sometimes that means that as we staff an event, usually behind the scenes, our eagle eyes will spot that quizzical look in a guest’s eyes and we’re happy to answer their questions.
  • The initial rental walk-through is a great opportunity to share our history with rental clients. I can show these small groups (usually just 1-2 people) more of the house than is available for a rental event. They love the behind-the-scenes nature of the rental walk-thru, and they share their enthusiasm with their guests.
  • Any signage/interpretive panels need to be both large enough to be visible, yet strategically located so they don’t interfere with events – especially wedding photos.
Gascoine 1

Morris-Butler House Exterior; photo credit Paige Wassel

Because each rental event is an opportunity to share our history, we must develop interpretive methods to best tell that story. What ways have you found to communicate with rental guests at your historic site or house?

— Kelly Gascoine serves as Indiana Landmarks’ Heritage Experiences Manager where she plans events and manages rentals at its 1865 Morris-Butler House. She is also involved in the ongoing revisioning and deaccessioning project at Morris-Butler House. She holds a Master’s degree in Public History from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).  Indiana Landmarks is a statewide historic preservation nonprofit with eight offices and many historic structures in its portfolio, including Morris-Butler House.