To help visitors better connect with the story of the Strong-Howard house and its inhabitants, the Windsor Historical Society undertook a radical experiment for a historic house museum. They refurnished the home, not with antiques, but with reproduction artifacts that can be handled and used to help guests understand how the Howard family lived in 1810. Visitors can try out chairs and the bed, pull out desk drawers to examine letters and accounts, sort through a high chest to find items of clothing, and experience hearth cooking. They are welcomed as guests into a home alive with specific historical people, their stories, and their things. The reinterpretation was also paired with a three-phase structural renovation of the home.
This forward-thinking project had several goals. Staff wanted the site to serve as a learning laboratory for historic home tours. They currently offer regular visitors a variety of methods to experience the house including a traditional guided tour with hands-on elements encouraged, a self-guided tour with a printed guide book and a docent nearby, or a self-exploratory tour enhanced by hidden discovery cards throughout the house with a docent available to answer questions. Special program guests and school audiences have also experienced the house with first-person actors, with specific curricula, and/or exploring on their own. Ongoing evaluations help determine the most effective and engaging tour methods. Another goal was to increase learning and historical understanding through hands-on experience. Students and young visitors particularly enjoy the freedom to explore and ask questions, and adult visitors appreciate the unique “please touch” approach that is so different from most house museums.
Interpretation methods that emphasize direct experience help visitors understand the Strong-Howard house as a family home where real people lived and worked. School groups participate in guided activities that center on family, social status, commerce, and politics while touching and engaging with related reproduction items in the home. The Windsor Historical Society aims to preserve and interpret Windsor’s historical record through active collecting, research, exhibitions, programs, and communications in the belief that an understanding of history can provide individuals and communities with connections to the past, a sense of belonging in the present, and responsibility for the future. The Strong-Howard House Reinterpretation Project embodies this mission by helping visitors connect and identify with their town’s past and the real people who lived history.