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21st Century House Museums Lead National Historic Preservation Month

San Antonio Conservation Society

May is National Preservation Month, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation is asking communities to think of creative ways to engage the public.

San Antonio is doing that with a seminar this weekend on Historic House Museums.

The National Trust has several suggestions for how to be a preservationist, such as:

  • Go ghost-hunting
  • Look up at second stories
  • Touring a house museum

Conservation Society president Nancy Avellar said they are trying to help some of the museums move into the 21st Century.

"And emphasize the cultural, religious, social activities and values of the era that they’re trying to interpret rather just showcase a family or their artwork or decorations or what not," she said.

Avellar said the house museum must remain true to the era in which the house lived, but it also must evolve to engage 21st Century audiences.

The Edward Steves Homestead experience was recently redesigned for a self-guided tour by Museum Consultant Mimi Quintanilla-Schmidt.

"Using QR codes, interactive activities that we can do with children. I mean, just things as simple as a little bell that you can ring the dinner bell and tell children that this is how you summoned everyone to dinner or called the cook from the kitchen to bring you more soup," she said.

San Antonio is home to several house museums, including the Jose Antonio Navarro Home, Villa Finale, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, and the Edward Steves Homestead.  

Avellar said the number of tours through the Steves Homestead has increased more than 80% since the new concepts were adopted in February.

"It’s just a new interpretation. Not just, 'Mrs. Steves liked to sit here and tat in the afternoon.' We don’t do that anymore," she said. 

The Conversation Society is offering a seminar for people to learn more about house museums – or create them.

It’s a full day of activity at the Steves Homestead and more information is available online at SAConservation.org.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.