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Engaging the Public with Collections Work

July 30, 2019

By Jenna Barganski, Museum Manager, Clackamas County Historical Society

The Stevens-Crawford Heritage House (SCHH) is an American Foursquare home built in Oregon City in 1908 by prominent real estate investors Harley Stevens and his wife, Mary Elizabeth. It remained in the family until 1968 when their daughter, Mertie Stevens, passed away and left the house and all of its contents to the Clackamas County Historical Society (CCHS). Unfortunately due to staff shortages, unplanned museum closures, and an extremely tight annual budget, the contents in the attic and basement spaces were improperly stored for decades.

 In August 2018, CCHS received an $8,000 Oregon Museums Grant award through the Oregon Heritage Commission. The funds were used to purchase archival boxes, shelving and other materials to vastly improve the storage conditions in these rooms. Additionally, a class of public history students from Portland State University assisted with unpacking and properly preserving several trunks of textiles and other artifacts found in the SCHH attic. Their outside perspectives shed a harsh light on the negative aspects of the house. Comments like, “these rooms look like an estate sale,” or questions of “why this place matters,” drove the point that SCHH was not a historically relevant destination and its abstract story required major revision. Through this process the students were able to gain firsthand experience with some of the common issues that plague heritage sites, and the staff and volunteers at CCHS received the necessary kick in the right direction. 

Additionally, the students made videos, took photographs and wrote social media posts to promote the project. They worked to connect the contents of things found in the attic with local historical events and customs. Their insights into what objects held the most meaning helped shape our thoughts on future exhibits and programming. Furthermore, because of this boost in visibility, SCHH visitorship has significantly increased since the house reopened to the public in April 2019. 

As a result of this reorganization, CCHS was able to move forward with renovating and reinterpreting the entire house to focus on the Progressive Era and how various innovations, inventions and events reshaped the community. 

Now that SCHH has received a much needed facelift, CCHS desires to share the house with visitors through new avenues. The goal of CCHS’s 2019/2020 Dwelling in the Past campaign is to raise the necessary funds to build an ADA accessible restroom and ramp and open the heritage house as a meeting space and event venue. A special thanks to the Oregon Heritage Commission for making this dream a foreseeable reality!  

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