A yellowish, stone building is shown. It has green shutters and green door. There is a man walking in front of the house, looking up at it.

Workshop: Reinventing the Historic House Museum

Reinventing the Historic House Museum

An AASLH Workshop

Workshop Description

The one-day workshop, Reinventing the Historic House Museum includes an analysis of the most important opportunities and threats facing historic sites in America based on the latest social and economic research, with a discussion on how they may relate to the participants’ house museum. We share a series of field-tested tools and techniques drawn from such wide-ranging sources as non-profit management, business strategy, and software development. Drawing from innovative organizations, we profile historic sites that are using new models to engage with their communities to become more relevant, are adopting creative forms of interpretation and programming, and earning income to become more financially sustainable. A key component of the workshop is a facilitated brainstorming session to reinvent an event or program. Working with an actual house museum not only puts theory into practice but demonstrates the value of multiple perspectives for analysis.

Why should I attend?

Historic house museums face a wide range of challenges in today’s continually changing environment. Traditional methods no longer seem to be as successful but new approaches seem uncertain or risky.  By the end of the workshop, participants will be able to analyze their operations, programs, and events to make better informed decisions, learn how to use a variety of tools and techniques that can be applied to a wide range of activities at museums big and small, identify ways to make their house museum more distinctive and relevant, and feel more confident to try new and different approaches.

Topics include:

  • Recognizing the Myriad Challenges Facing House Museums Today
  • Conducting a Holistic Assessment of Your House Museum’s Public Programs
  • Analyzing the Five Forces that Affect Public Programs and Events
  • House Museums That Are Successfully Reinventing Themselves
  • Discovering Your House Museum’s Unique Value and Distinctiveness


FORMAT: In-person group workshop

LENGTH: One full day (8:30 am - 5:00 pm), with lunch provided

DATE: Friday, October 4, 2019

LOCATION: The Old Stone House, 336 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215

MATERIALS: Workshop materials will be provided upon registration and in person at the event.

COST: This workshop (which typically costs $95.00 per registrant) is made available at no cost thanks to grant funding secured by the Historic House Trust of New York City from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Arthur F. & Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. Please use promotional code HHTNYC19 at checkout to receive discounted pricing.  


Who Should Attend This Workshop

Board members, staff, and volunteers who manage house museums and historic sites or who develop public programs and events. This workshop is designed for organizations large and small who are seeking to increase the impact and sustainability of their house museum, as well as for paid or volunteer staff who want to expand their professional skills.


Max A. van Balgooy is president of Engaging Places LLC, a design and strategy firm that connects people and historic places.  He has worked with a wide range of historic sites on interpretive planning and business strategy, including James Madison’s Montpelier and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. He is an assistant professor in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, directs the History Leadership Institute (formerly known as the Seminar for Historical Administration), serves on the editorial board of Curator, the Museum Journal, and regularly leads workshops at regional and national museum conferences. He is a frequent contributor to professional journals and books, and with Ken Turino of Historic New England, he is preparing an anthology on reinventing the historic house museum for publication by Rowman and Littlefield in early 2019. These experiences provide a rich source of ideas for EngagingPlaces.net, where he blogs regularly about the opportunities and challenges facing historic sites and house museums.

Kenneth Turino is Manager of Community Partnerships and Resource Development at Historic New England where he has worked for 19 years. He oversees community engagement projects throughout New England and is responsible for exhibition partnerships at the Eustis Estate, Langdon House Museum, and the Sarah Orne Jewett Museum and Visitor Center. Prior to this, he was Executive Director of the Lynn Museum in Lynn, Massachusetts for 14 years. Ken frequently consults on interpretive planning and community engagement projects at historic sites including Madam John’s Legacy, New Orleans, LA, on best practices of community engagement, James Madison’s Montpellier, Orange, VA, where he was part of a charrette to rethink the visitor experience for the Interpretive Plan and most recently with the Connecticut Landmarks’ Palmer Warner House on interpreting LGBTQ history. Ken holds a MA in Teaching, Museum Education, from the George Washington University and is an adjunct professor in the Tufts University Museum Studies Program where he teaches courses on the future of historic houses. Mr. Turino is also a Trustee of the House of Seven Gables in Salem, MA. Along with Max van Balgooy he is an instructor for AASLH‘s Reinventing the Historic House workshop. His forthcoming book, with Max van Balgooy, based on the workshop will be published in fall 2019. Ken is also very pleased to announce that he is producer of  the Boston Camerata’s latest CD, Treasures of Devotion (June 2019)!

Participant Feedback

This workshop has been incredibly helpful to the host sites, who serve as the case study for the brainstorming session:

“Reinventing the Historic House Museum sparked many great ideas on how we can use our historic homes in dynamic, innovative ways. Since attending the workshop, we have implemented many changes, including a new self-guided tour with interactive elements that have increased our attendance and engaged the public in brand new ways.”

Sarah Bader-King, Director of Public Programming & Events,
Wornall/Majors House Museums, Kansas City, Missouri

Reinventing the Historic House Museum helped us visualize how the Margaret Mitchell House could connect with the community around us. While the site was very popular with tourists, we were hidden in plain sight from our own community. Our goal was to discuss the challenges we faced and to pursue practical solutions. The workshop allowed us to collaborate with area professionals and hear from colleagues facing similar challenges. We left the workshop with good ideas and a commitment to reimagine our site. As a result of that work we have increased visibility in the community, created programming relevant to the neighborhood, and are partnering with area organizations to become a community resource and connector.”

Jessica Van Landuyt, Director of 20th Century Houses,
Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Georgia

Historic Preservation and The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook

“Women Barbers at Tule Lake Segregation Center,” Library of Congress.

By Priya Chhaya, National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook Advisory Committee

In considering The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook as a resource, two significant phrases come to mind. The first, the layered past, offers a glimpse of how I approach inclusive historical thinking.  While I know the field is often awash in metaphor, this idea of layers, helps me to visualize how the histories we share did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they live one on top of each other, bleeding across boundaries, identities, communities, and borders. Understanding these layers, not just in the historical record itself, but also in the practice of telling stories is critical to creating an inclusive historical practice.

The second concept centers around trust. So much of traditional practice comes from a place of authority. After all, as practitioners we have spent much of our lives learning the tools, skills, and tactics to research and tell these histories. However, in doing our work, historians have willingly (or unwillingly) obscured narratives of a wide swath of the human experience, and as a consequence, we have lost the trust of those communities whose histories were ignored.

With these two ideas in mind, when I was approached to produce a piece for the handbook that focused on historic preservation, I immediately asked myself: What is an inclusive historic preservation practice? I knew that it wasn’t about the process of preservation, of the important laws and regulations, or the act of designation and landmarking. Rather I wanted to write an entry that went further, examining the very root of preservation practice—the places we save.

My entry for the handbook chronicles not just the basic history of the preservation movement but also looks at strides that have occurred in the field in the just over fifty years since the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. Central to this conversation is a focus on people over place, which includes a shifting of authority in identifying what places are preserved, and also who is making the decisions around preservation projects. While most of the piece looks at preservation from the national perspective (I am an employee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), I tried to include voices, ideas, and experiences from many working at the state and local levels.  

Also, much like my layered metaphor of history writ large, this conversation goes beyond saving actual places to building an inclusive preservation practice, where multiple voices are empowered to be a part of the professional community rather than separate from it.

Above all else, it is critical that we rebuild trust. Without the essential element of community engagement we will always be seen as a movement that merely steps in to save one place at a time without acknowledging the broader impacts preservation has on the larger contexts in which places exist. While this may not be happening everywhere, it is definitely a part of the overall perception of preservation practice.

So how do I see The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook being used? I see it being used to build connections; to reveal through entries about “Historic Preservation,” “Heritage Tourism,” and “Public Folklore” (for example) that various types of historical practice do not occur in isolation from one another; to illustrate that inclusion, equity, and service are threaded across all forms of our profession; to urge discussion and provide practical examples of how these practices can be put into place.

I specifically hope that my entry illustrates what modern historic preservation practice is moving towards—where the tactics and tools that have worked for over fifty years, coupled with the newer strategies my fellow authors and I describe will continue to build forward momentum to forge a more inclusive preservation movement in the years to come.

Learn more about the The Inclusive Historian's Handbook, and join the authors and Advisory Committee at #AASLH2019.

It's Official: We're Dating Our Building

Back in 2016, AASLH was searching for new office space. Our rented office on Church Street where we had been for decades was no longer the best fit for our needs, and as a nondescript and fairly modern office building, it wasn't helping us live our mission of supporting historic places. Enter St. Bernard Convent and Academy. Located in a historic neighborhood called Hillsboro Village and surrounded by mid-century bungalows, this 1905 Catholic school turned office space is our home sweet home for history.

Undated photo from the Diocese of Nashville.

The story of SBA and the Sisters of Mercy is a fascinating window into Nashville's educational and women's history and a preservation success story for our city. This area was involved in the 1864 Battle of Nashville (the park in front has a Tennessee Historical Commission marker detailing the location of the outer Federal defenses), and the first Sisters of Mercy came to Nashville just after the Civil War and opened their first school one day after arriving.  The order was founded in 1831 in Dublin with a mission of education and service for women and children. They moved to several locations around town before finding their home in Hillsboro in 1905. This restrained example of High Victorian Gothic architecture served as a home for the nuns, a girls' school, a special education school, and a Montessori school until it closed in 1989. It was sold in 2015 to its largest tenant, and preservationists all over town breathed a sigh of relief that this unique structure would be preserved. Today the building houses offices for a wide range of professions with the large chapel still holding religious services.

Having served as a school as well as a home for more than eighty years, St. Bernard has seen its share of renovation and remodeling, but it still retains many original elements and even later additions that help tell the story of its long history. I'm not an architectural historian, but I love discovering original fixtures in the hallways and trying to figure out when certain features were added.

Were the ornate radiators part of the original design? What about the sea green clawfoot bathtubs tucked away in the women's restroom upstairs? Some of the fourth floor office doors have stained glass transom windows -- were these bedrooms for the sisters? It's hard to know for sure, but one thing is for certain: we love our building and trying to date all the interesting details. It's a tremendous privilege to get to work in the midst of history, and our building inspires us every day.

We are proud to participate in the Heart Bomb 2018 initiative from the National Trust for Historic Preservation this Valentine's Day. Historic buildings all over the country are getting some love with handmade valentines and the #IHeartSavingPlaces hashtag. Every town has historic gems and we hope you're inspired to share your preservation stories as well.

Book Review: The Past and Future City

This review originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of History News.

The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities
By Stephanie Meeks with Kevin C. Murphy

(Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2016)
Reviewed by Anne Petersen

The Past and Future City is a manifesto about the power of historic preservation to create positive change in our nation’s urban places. Well-positioned to draft the current generation’s preservation charge, Stephanie Meeks, the President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), and NTHP speechwriter Kevin Murphy have put together an accessible publication designed for a general audience. Far from a how-to manual, or exhaustive compendium of related legislation and best practices, The Past and Future City is designed to convert the field’s misinformed critics and arms its champions with strategic language and good data.

Meeks and Murphy’s thesis is that historic preservation is vital for sustaining and improving livable cities, and that in order to realize the potential of this work, we must change the reputation that preservation sometimes carries. Far from the anti-change antiquarians they are often perceived to be, Meeks and Murphy argue convincingly that preservationists are active, present-minded participants in the change process. Historic preservation, they write, “Is about managing change and helping to ensure a smooth continuum between past, present and future” (21).

Those interested in historic preservation’s needs and concerns in America’s vast rural areas and small communities will need to wait for a subsequent work. The Past and Future City is rooted in the strong tradition of historic preservation in the country’s densest population centers. Meeks and Murphy begin with a concise summary of the contributions of influential New York preservation advocate and erudite writer Jane Jacobs in the 1960s. The authors then review the recent work of NTHP’s research arm, the Green Lab, which had produced several strategic (and user friendly) statistics and accompanying infographics that support preservation’s role in creating livable cities. One, for example, uses a study of San Francisco to demonstrate that older districts in cities tend to support more small businesses. (55)

Subsequent chapters arm readers with strategies for advocating for preservation in their own communities, for example by promoting pedestrian friendly cityscapes, and using architectural compatibility as planning criteria. A chapter on adaptive reuse is designed to unleash creative thinking about the potential of historic building to be reimagined for contemporary uses. The last third of the book tackles concerns about inequality, diversity, and sustainability in cities. The field of preservation, the authors freely admit, has been historically complicit in some of these urban challenges, including gentrification and lack of inclusion. The authors convincingly argue, however, that the great potential successes in the field involve offering solutions to these challenges, such as preserving more special places related to underserved communities, and using preservation as an inherently green building strategy.

For most readers of History News, the premise of The Past and Future City will read like preaching to the choir. Use it to sharpen your advocacy language, and after you are finished, pass it along to a developer, city planner, skeptical business owner, or an un-indoctrinated family member, with a gentle suggestion that the message within might change their and our world, just a little, for the better.

Anne Petersen, Ph.D. is the Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.  She holds a Doctorate in Public History from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.A. in American Civilization and Museums Studies from Brown University.  She has over fifteen years’ experience working in museums and historic sites and is a 2015 graduate of the Seminar for Historical Administration. She can be reached at anne@sbthp.org.

Are you interested in contributing reviews to History News? Apply here.


Civil Rights Sites Gain National Funding, Status

The Medgar Evers House
The Medgar Evers House

The week leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s national holiday brought good news for civil rights sites awarded major grant funding and higher levels of historic recognition.  It also brought joy to those who worked hard to establish the sites during a time when their future was uncertain.

I documented some of those behind-the-scenes stories in her 2016 book: The Sustainers: Being, Building and Doing Good through Activism in the Sacred Spaces of Civil Rights, Human Rights and Social Movements. Two of the sites included in the book, the Modjeska Simkins House, a restoration effort launched by Fleming Bruce in 1995, and the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, part of the Selma to Montgomery National Trail, were among the 39 sites to share $7.5 million dollars in civil rights grant funding, the National Park Service announced on January 12, 2017.

The Simpkins House before renovation.
The Simpkins House before renovation.

This critical national funding and recognition for the Simkins House will help those charged with the site’s care to ensure that Modjeska will never be one of the many women active in the civil rights struggle who were forgotten over time. Further restoration of the historic site by its caretakers, the Historic Columbia Foundation, helps move not only Modjeska’s story and the story of women in the movement to the national stage, but also further elevates South Carolina’s role in the civil rights movement, after decades of being overlooked. Finally, it increases the number of historic sites that examine the lives and work of women in the United States.

Two other sites featured in my book which achieved an elevated status in recent weeks are the Medgar and Myrlie Evers House and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Both were among 24 sites named National Historic Landmarks by the National Park Service on January 11, 2017.

The Simpkins House
The Simpkins House

The Sustainers: Being, Building and Doing Good through Activism in the Sacred Spaces of Civil Rights, Human Rights and Social Movements,  tells the stories of some of the many individuals who worked to reclaim civil rights sites from demolition, disrepair, and the auction block. Telling these stories is designed not only to generate greater appreciation for the struggle to preserve the sites, but also to encourage local and national communities to make the sites part of the ongoing struggle for justice in America.

A Golden Age for Historic Properties

Five Mile Point Lighthouse

In the Summer 2007 History News, John and Anita Durel predicted that "Historic properties are on the verge of a golden age. Over the next two decades Americans will turn to historic houses and sites as a source of learning, enjoyment, and fulfillment."

Nine years later, we're re-sharing this article to provoke reflection on what we have and have not accomplished in this time. Should we still be optimistic?

Historic properties are on the verge of a golden age. Over the next two decades Americans will turn to historic houses and sites as a source of learning, enjoyment, and fulfillment. Increasingly, people will choose to spend time in places that con­nect them to their past, to nature, and to beauty. They will provide financial support to help sustain the properties, so that succeeding generations will benefit from these places that they value so much.

This future will occur only for the organizations that abandon the thinking of the 1980s. Specifically, the leaders of historic properties that enter the golden age will:

  • Stop thinking of “visitors” and start thinking of “members.”
  • Stop thinking of “them” and start thinking of “us.”
  •  Stop thinking of “interpretation” and start thinking of “facilitation.”
  •  Stop focusing only on the intellectual and social content of the experience, and start including spiritual content.


Cultural Tourism: an Outdated Business Model

In its simplest form, a business model is a way to describe how an enterprise builds its capacity in response to a perceived need or desire on the part of some portion of the public. The model is successful if enough people pay enough money for the enterprise’s products or services to enable it to produce those products and services in a financially sustainable way.

Over the past three decades, the dominant business model for historic properties has been cultural tourism, in which the organization provided a history experience for a visit­ing public in exchange for admission fees and museum shop sales. The model became dominant at a time when nonprof­its were expected to be run like businesses with customers paying for services received. The diagram on page eight depicts this model.


This model worked reasonably well for some organiza­tions. To a degree, it continues to be effective for a handful of sites that are unique or offer an experience that cannot be easily found elsewhere such as the St. Augustine Lighthouse because many tourists want to climb to the top. However, most historic sites have always depended upon other sources of revenue to balance the books—special fundraising events, foundation grants, government support, and endowments. Most have created a patchwork of operating revenue sources resulting in staff who often spend time on revenue-generat­ing activities only marginally connected to the mission.

Colonial Williamsburg has been the granddaddy of the cultural tourism model. Remember those 1-800-HISTORY commercials with the happy families walking along Duke of Gloucester Street? These days, Williamsburg hosts fewer families than two decades ago. Recently the New York Times reported that visitation to Colonial Williamsburg “dropped to 710,000 last year from 1.1 million in 1985, despite two decades of investing millions of dollars to try to make the museum relevant to a younger, more diverse group of tourists.” This decline in tourism is widespread, with many other historic sites and national parks reporting comparable figures.

What has changed? American families are still tak­ing vacations, but the competition is stiff. Cultural sites must compete with Disney World, Las Vegas, Europe, and other vacation destinations. Additionally, the lack of transportation funding for school fieldtrips has become a widespread and chronic issue. And senior citizens now ap­pear to be taking their bus trips mainly to casinos.


Whatever the reasons, the old model is no longer viable. Efforts to make it work with new programs or better market­ing will fail. The growth experienced in the 1970s and 1980s has tapered off and begun to decline. Unless something changes dramatically, the decline will continue and we will see more properties being sold or shut down.

The question to ask is, what is the new business model to replace cultural tourism? To move to a new growth curve re­quires taking risks. We have entered a period of uncertainty as we try to figure out what will work next. It is a time to try new approaches, learn from mistakes, recover quickly, and build on successes. With smart people, strategic thinking, and discipline, an organization should be able to make the transition successfully.

To make the leap, we must challenge long-held assump­tions about historic sites and start to see them in new ways. We must also look beyond our own industry to others in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2007 issue of History News magazine, the official publication of AASLH. You can read the full article in PDF format here. You can read recent History News articles by becoming a member or find issues older than three years on JSTOR.

[To read the rest of this article, download the PDF or use the PDF reader below.]

[gview file="https://cdn.aaslh.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2016/10/GoldenAge-HNSummer07.pdf"]

Historic Columbia Receives State Preservation Award

AASLH Member Since 1960 and a 2015 Leadership in History Award Winner

Historic Columbia Receives 2015 South Carolina
Preservation  Heritage Tourism Award for Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County

L to R: HC Director of Cultural Resources John Sherrer, HC Director of Historic House Museums Fielding Freed, SC Lt. Governor Henry McMaster, HC Director of Marketing & Communications Carrie Phillips, HC Executive Director Robin Waites, and Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation Executive Director Michael Bedenbaugh.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (June 5, 2015)—Lt. Governor Henry McMaster presented Historic Columbia with the 2015 Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Award during the 2015 Historic Preservation Awards ceremony at the South Carolina Statehouse on Friday, June 5.

The S.C. Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Award recognizes those who best use South Carolina’s cultural and historic resources in the promotion and development of tourism or use tourism to directly benefit the preservation of the state’s heritage. The awards are sponsored by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, the S.C. Department of Archives & History and the Office of the Governor.

“We are proud to have developed exhibits and tours at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home that resonate with so many visitors from South Carolina and far beyond,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “The story of the Reconstruction Era needs to be told, and it is clear from our numbers that it is one people across the country are eager to understand.”

Historic Columbia received the Heritage Tourism Award for the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County, South Carolina’s only presidential site and the only museum in the United States to focus solely on the Reconstruction era. Closed for nearly nine years, the Wilson home reopened on February 15, 2014 after an unprecedented comprehensive physical rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the content presented in the museum. This project also received an AASLH Leadership in History award this year.

During the restoration, Historic Columbia assembled a team of distinguished scholars from the University of South Carolina to create a new interpretive scheme to would showcase the Wilson family in the context of the Reconstruction era, the transformative years when they called Columbia home. The property not only tells the story of the young future president’s life in Columbia; it uses the Wilson family as a springboard to the larger of story of what was happening in South Carolina in the years following the Civil War.

Central to that story is the experience of African Americans, considered citizens for the first time in southern history. Visitors to the Woodrow Wilson Family Home are immersed in the context of Columbia in the 1870s as they explore how Columbia’s 9,297 residents, both black and white, navigated the profound political, social and economic changes of Reconstruction. Through panel exhibits, interactive technologies and guided tours, visitors learn that this was a time when African Americans participated in government, founded churches, claimed access to education and negotiated new terms of labor.

“The sensitive rehabilitation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home has reaffirmed the site’s position as a vibrant cultural attraction in the capital city and resulted in more successful stewardship of one of South Carolina’s most important properties associated with Reconstruction.,” said John Sherrer, Historic Columbia’s director of cultural resources. “At the Wilson home, Historic Columbia is able share with visitors Columbia’s 19th-century history and deconstruct the history of Reconstruction so prevalent in society today.”

The Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County is open for tours Tuesday – Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tour admission can be purchased at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills, 1616 Blanding Street. Tours are $8 for adults, $5 for youth and free for Historic Columbia members. For more information, visit historiccolumbia.org.


About Historic Columbia Foundation:

In November 1961, a small group of individuals intent on saving the Ainsley Hall House from demolition officially incorporated as the Historic Columbia Foundation. Over the next five decades the organization, which was founded on the premise of preservation and education, would take on the stewardship of seven historic properties in Richland County. Today, the organization serves as a model for local preservation efforts and interpretation of local history. Visit historiccolumbia.org or find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube for more details.


Saving our Sacred Places - Endangered Churches in the United States and What One Group is Doing to Preserve Them

19th Street Baptist Church
19th Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA

Across the country, many places of worship are falling in disrepair. As church attendance and revenues decline, the resources to maintain these structures disappear.

This is an interesting look at what Partners for Sacred Places is doing to preserve these historic structures in communities around the United States.

Click HERE to see the video.

Treasure in Music City

AASLH staff were on hand to witness an exciting announcement on Monday, one that marked a milestone in Nashville historic preservation. Middle Tennessee has a lively local history and preservation scene, and we were very happy to meet with some of our neighbors and help support the history community in our neck of the woods. Nashville mayor Karl Dean and Congressman Jim Cooper were also in attendance, along with Nashville music icons Ben Folds and Jamey Johnson.

Ben Folds giving a statement to the press

Over 200 preservation advocates and media representatives gathered in historic RCA Studio A (now Grand Victor Sound) to hear the good news that Nashville’s legendary Music Row has been designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., an AASLH Institutional Partner. We are proud to be a long-time ally with the National Trust on several projects and are excited to have them join in efforts to preserve the history in our own backyard.

The Music Row neighborhood in midtown Nashville has been the hub of the music industry in the city since the 1960s, and contains a number of recording studios, record label headquarters, and other institutions that helped make Music City what it is today.

Turn-of-the-century homes in the Music Row neighborhood converted into studios, publishing companies, and record labels.
Turn-of-the-century homes in the Music Row neighborhood converted into studios, publishing companies, and record labels.

In recent years, the neighborhood has faced significant threats from unchecked development and demolition that compromises its preservation and character. The struggle became nationally-known earlier this year, when RCA Studio A was sold and threatened with demolition. The space has functioned as a recording studio for fifty years and hosted some of Nashville’s most noted artists, including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and George Jones. Musician and studio tenant Ben Folds publicized the studio’s impending doom and what this would mean for the city’s musical and historic heritage. A dedicated team of fans, musicians, and preservations waged a grassroots campaign to save the studio and secured the support of local philanthropist Aubrey Preston to purchase the building and ensure its survival. This highly-publicized event heightened awareness of other threatened structures and imperiled history along Music Row.

RCA Studios A and B on Music Row in the middle of ongoing development
RCA Studios A and B on Music Row in the middle of ongoing development

The National Trust is partnering with the Music Industry Coalition, Historic Nashville, the Metro Nashville Historical Commission, and other local preservation groups to research, document, and raise awareness of this significant neighborhood and its need for preservation. Through the National Treasure designation, the Trust is making a powerful statement that this area is central to our city’s identity, in the past, in the present, and into the future.

First draft of MIC's map of Music Row
First draft of MIC's map of Music Row

“We’re very excited to be partnering with the National Trust,” said Robbie Jones, board member with Historic Nashville. “They’re offering us their national resources and sixty years of experience, and we get to be their feet on the ground on Nashville.”

This partnership means protection for this essential Nashville neighborhood and confirmation of the power of grassroots advocacy for endangered historic sites. Without the support and concern of music lovers around the world and local preservationists, the foundation of Music City might have been gradually eroded away by unrestricted commercial development.

Music Row’s new status is a victory for all of us, and AASLH is proud to see this effort succeeding in our own city. We’re very excited to see what the future holds for this neighborhood and all of the preservation and advocacy groups that are working together to ensure Music City’s history is preserved and enjoyed for years to come.

What can we as AASLH members learn from the campaign to save Music Row?

  • Speak up! If your local history is being threatened, you’re probably not the only one concerned. Help start a grassroots movement like the one that rallied for Studio A. Form your own group with likeminded people who are dedicated to your cause. Ask your friends for support, create a group on social media, and publicize any way you can.
  • Reach out! Ben Folds knew he wanted to save Studio A but wasn’t sure how. Tom Mayes, National Trust’s Deputy General Counsel, read Ben’s open letter of concern and got in touch with him at a concert with the offer of National Trust support and resources. Know who to ask for help, whether it’s a local college, historical society, or even architects or lawyers who may have knowledge of preservation regulations.
  • Join together! Talk to your local historical society, library, museum, or archives and see how you can help save history. Many AASLH institutions and individuals are involved with helping save threatened history – get in touch with them and ask for their advice.

Small ripples grew into big waves here in Nashville, and it can happen in your town, too. Help save your local history by raising awareness of its value to your community and creating a strategic plan to ensure it survives and thrives.

 Aja Bain is Program Assistant at AASLH. She can be reached at abain@aaslh.org or 615-320-3203.

Alt-rock and Historic Sites in Georgia

Georgia is home to many interesting things:  Gone with the Wind, the world's largest peanut statue, a reconstruction of the White House,  and, of course Rock City.  The state is also home to some truly amazing musicians.  James Brown, Little Richard, R.E.M., the B-52's, the Indigo Girls, and Lady Antebellum just to name a few.  One name that may not ring a bell for everyone yet is Dead Confederate and their lead singer T. Hardy Morris.

Rock City Sign -- Not in Peril
Rock City Sign -- Not in Peril

Morris is known for his alternative rock and alt-country sound.  But he recently completed a solo project designed to bring public attention to Georgia's Places in Peril.

Every year, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, like the National Trust, issues a list of historic sites that are in danger from benign neglect or development.  Hardy Morris was raised by parents who are lovers of history and culture, so he has a passion for old places and is a member of the Georgia Trust.

Photographer and filmmaker Jason Thrasher asked Morris if he would do an acoustic video as part of a project Thrasher was putting together with various musicians.  Morris agreed, but wanted to film it at a site from the Places in Peril list -- the Rock House in McDuffie County, considered to be the oldest remaining stone house in Georgia.   The project quickly grew into 10 videos which then became the album Audition Tapes, released this year.  The sessions also feature Athens musicians Matt Stoessel and Thayer Sarrano.

The Rock House, Thomson, GA -- in Peril
The Rock House, Thomson, GA -- in Peril

Morris recently explained to a group of high school students learning about historic preservation that he sees the line between art and preservation as being very thin and very fluid, that preservation IS art.  He explains the Audition Tapes project this way:

I’ve always been more interested in the past than the future. I’m fascinated by how people lived, how civilizations have risen & fallen, and especially by the things that have been left behind.  Looking back, we find countless stories of people who had to preserve and survive.

To see the videos and read more about this wonderful project visit:


Hardy Morris at the Rock House photo by Jason Thrasher
Hardy Morris at the Rock House
photo by Jason Thrasher