Richfield Historical Society to enhance Bartholomew
It has been 45 years since Richfield residents rallied to preserve the Bartholomew House as a symbol of the community’s beginnings. Now, the Richfield Historical Society plans make the old house something more than a relic.
The Bartholomew House, constructed in 1852 on the first homestead in what is now Richfield, will become an interactive museum by spring of 2014, if the historical society is successful in soliciting donations and grants, according to Jodi Larson, director of the historical society.
The site was the inspiration for the formation of the Richfield Historical Society in 1967, but the organization wants to make it a more complete representation of Richfield’s history.
“It’s time to update the exhibit so it doesn’t tell the story of life just in the 19th century, but the story of Richfield, because the house has seen so much in 150 years,” Larson said.
With that in mind, the historical society plans to turn the house’s interior into a series of exhibits outlining Richfield’s history, while the exterior will remain unaltered, in adherence to the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
“The hope is to make the building more available, to tell the story better,” said Bill Walker, president of the historical society’s board of directors.
According to an exhibit plan prepared by museum consultant Museology, each room on the house’s first floor would be dedicated to a theme, with the upstairs cordoned off. The kitchen and pantry would focus on Richfield’s agricultural roots, beginning with the U.S. Government’s quickly abandoned efforts near Lake Calhoun — once part of Richfield — to teach a band of the Mdewakanton tribe to farm in the American style in the 1830s.
The exhibit would chart the transition of the area from prairie to “improved land,” when farms sprang up across Richfield to grow wheat as a cash crop before the market gardening model took hold to supply produce to a growing Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Accompanying the information, examples of 19th century farm implements, like a broadcast seeder and a grain cradle, would be on display, along with a kitchen setup explaining how homesteaders like the Bartholomew family turned wheat into bread.
Beyond the kitchen, the dining and sitting room area of the Bartholomew House would feature an exhibit focusing on the construction of the building itself, with photographs, diagrams and maps describing the construction process, plus the origins of the building materials and how they got there.
Next to the building description, an exhibit would explore the changes in Richfield over the past 150 years. Dinnerware such as plates and napkins from various eras would be on display, printed with questions or tidbits addressing changes in Richfield. Furthering that theme, the exhibit would include an image of the unbroken landscape the Bartholomews encountered when they first arrived, plus a scene of a mid-20th century market garden along with one of modern-day Richfield.
In the same section of the house would be interactive features such as framed, hinged photos that could be opened to reveal hidden objects when visitors answer questions related to the photos. In another interactive exhibit, visitors would have the ability to share their reasons for moving to Richfield.
Next, an exhibit in the home’s parlor and bedroom area would cover material changes in people’s way of life, with a room cut in half and each side decked out with artifacts from a different era. One side would possibly represent 1852, with the other inspired by 1952.
Along with period furnishings, the exhibit would offer a glimpse into the domestic diversions enjoyed during the two periods. For example, the 1852 side might feature the image viewing device called the stereopticon that came out in the mid 1800s, while the 1952 side could display objects including a View Master and black-and-white television.
Another display would look at the post World War II boom that formed modern-day Richfield. The space would focus on Richfield’s post-war housing developments, with graphs charting the city’s population growth — and decline — from 1940 to 2010, along with first-person accounts of the boom.
The museum section would also include a military uniform hanging near a dresser full of drawers, which might hold the souvenirs a returning soldier would have brought home. In a symbolic touch, one of those drawers may remain empty, inviting exhibit visitors to fold the uniform and pack it away.
The installation would amount to “a game changer in the fact that this will put us ahead of most small historical societies,” Larson said. The house would become a “cutting edge museum,” continuing an enlivened focus on the historical society that began in 2005, when the Richfield History Center was constructed next to the Bartholomew House.
Even those who know everything about Richfield’s history would have reason to visit, according to Larson.
“Even if you’ve lived here all your life,” she said, “these exhibits can help you find your place in history.”