What happens at your site when it is closed for the season?
People often ask us what we do in the winter months and are surprised to learn just how busy we are. After our month long Christmas at Woodlawn which ends on December 23, we spend the first couple of weeks in January getting all the decorations down and put away. The Black House then gets a thorough cleaning and the antiques get covered for the winter. Staff and our director do this jointly as a team building exercise. We then launch into annual meeting planning (held in January) and annual report production (late January, early February deadline). We work to have our community and school program calendars established by the end of February. Weekly planning meetings start in mid-January for our Ellsworth Antiques Show at Woodlawn held on our campus in August.
This year, we are very busy with our Campaign for Woodlawn which will establish new, year-round community and education space at Woodlawn. We are holding weekly luncheons with business leaders through March to keep the community up-to-date on our activities. April brings spring clean-up and preparing the house and the property for the busy season. The museum opens on May 1st. There is of course day to day office work. We publish a monthly, online newsletter, and work to have an active social media presences. Our grounds are open to the public year round, dawn to dusk, free of charge and are heavily used, even in winter. We also spend time thinking creatively and brainstorming in the off season. What new and exciting things can we offer at Woodlawn this year?
My first reaction upon reading that question was to answer, “what doesn’t?!”
Heritage Museums & Gardens is closed from January through mid-April. Over the years, I have witnessed colleagues get a far-away look in their eyes as they imagine with envy what it must be like to work at a site that is closed for that stretch of time, fantasizing about all the planning and catching up we must do during all of our “down time.”
While we do engage in planning activities, there is actually a whole lot of execution going on. In fact, this time of year is considered the “busy season” for our exhibits team as they work to prepare galleries, receive loans, and do all the other work required to install a new major special exhibition and to make changes to permanent collection exhibits. It is an intense period of change, and we do appreciate having the ability to turn over exhibits without needing to take public spaces off-line.
Even when Heritage is “closed,” it still feels like a busy place. Facilities projects are ongoing, the marketing department is producing collateral and lining up ad buys, the development team is stewarding and soliciting members and donors, the shop is stocking new merchandise, group sales is booking spring business, and new interpreters are getting hired and trained. Work even goes on in the gardens as trees are maintained, plants started in the greenhouse are cared for, and research activities are conducted to document winter hardiness in the North American Hydrangea Test Garden.
And for us, “closed” does not mean that we cease all public activity. The 35 four- and five-year olds who attend The Hundred Acre School, Heritage’s STEM-focused preschool, keep the museum a lively place year-round. We also host the occasional public program or meeting at the museum, but really regard this as a great time to get out into the community, participating in events and programs like History on Tap, where we bring objects from the museum’s collection to discuss with our neighbors in restaurant bars across Cape Cod.
During winters at Alden House Historic Site, family homestead of Mayflower Pilgrims John and Priscilla Alden and their descendants, the house is closed to the public although the grounds are open year-round and offer a cell phone tour for visitors. This winter, we've been planning a new living history series, working with volunteers and a high school intern to catalog the collection, promoting group tours, preparing grants, outreaching to members and friends through newsletters and social media, and planning our annual "Speak for Thyself" award dinner that honors women in the community for their leadership and civic mindedness. With the recent purchase of abutting property, which reclaims some of the Alden's original land grant, we are also looking to the future with a long-term expansion of the Alden story. As a significant Pilgrim related site we are partnering with the Duxbury community to serve as the town's visitor center during the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower journey.
As busy as were are during these "down" months, it is our genealogist whose workload often increases during the winter perhaps in response to holiday family gatherings or the upcoming 400 anniversary. The famous Pilgrim couple had 10 children, 69 grandchildren and 500 great grandchildren and today their progeny is estimated to number over one million. As packages of all shapes and sizes arrive, Lilly patiently sorts through the great variety of records of uneven documentation. Under her watchful eye well researched submissions are approved and the others receive timely and professional feedback that helps them understand their true family story.