Did you know that you can rent the Whaley House?
Well, you can! We host a variety of events ranging from birthday parties, to Girl Scout events, and even weddings. We set up everything. We have plates, silverware, cups, glasses, a punch bowl, and a variety of implements you may need. The price for most rentals is $50/hour, but weddings cost a bit more, as more goes into planning a wedding at the House.
Rentals are hotly debated issues in the historic house community and understandably so. Should those sworn to protect and preserve (see what I did there) historic structures allow them to be used by anybody? Should anybody be able to rent the space and have food and beverages inside? Are we fulfilling our mission if we do this?
Well, more and more the answer is becoming yes. Rentals provide two things for historic sites. First, and most obviously, is a source of revenue. Historic sites often struggle to come up with the funds to keep the site open and running with interesting programs, in addition to the money needed for preservation and restoration projects. Big old houses require big restoration budgets. Second, rentals are, in a way, a kind of marketing. Through rentals we are able to bring people into the museum who may never come for anything otherwise. Maybe someone was invited to a baby shower, had never been to the museum, never checked out our website, but while there they heard about a program that interested them, so they made it a point to come back. Or maybe they were so awe struck by the grandeur of the house that they decided to volunteer (one can hope, at least!). Or, even if they don’t personally come back, they will remember their time at the museum and pass that along to someone else who might. Word of mouth is a great source of free advertisement.
Now, some may think that only struggling sites and small museums would risk bringing folks in for a rental, but that’s not the case. Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, Michigan has an amazing array of images from a variety of rentals they host at their location. Additionally, Historic New England, the nonprofit that oversees a group of historic properties scattered across New England has a list of sites they have available for rentals. They even promote the rentals by boasting the ability to have an intimate dinner AMONG the antiques. Rentals are common in historic sites across the board.
In a perfect world where every historic site could find adequate funding, would rentals still happen? Honestly, I think theY would. The ability to make wonderful memories, such as having a holiday tea party around the Whaley family dinner table or seeing your bride come down the 1885 staircase in her gown are priceless. We have preserved these locations for a reason and what better reason than to have it used and filled with smiling faces, first kisses, baby shower games, and the wonderment in the eyes of Girl Scouts who excitedly announce “Oh my gosh! I want to live here!” when they walk into the master bedroom (a favorite museum moment of mine). By hosting rentals we connect the lives of the Whaley family with community members of the present and that, to me, seems a worthy endeavor.