Museums portraying Anabaptist and Mennonite history and peoplehood have become immensely popular. In 1987, more than 20 museums in Canada and the United States interpreted the Amish or Mennonite heritage; in future years, museums with Mennonite or Anabaptist connections will likely appear in other countries.
The late 19th century witnessed a surge of museum founding in North American society. Many early museums celebrated the legacies of wealthy and civic-minded leaders. Mennonites, however, valuing humility, founded museums only after establishing other types of institutions. Newly founded colleges sparked interest among Mennonite scholars for preserving historical materials, and the colleges eventually opened specialized historical libraries and archives. In 1987 the historical libraries of several colleges maintain cultural artifacts for their church constituencies.
Some museums began through the interest of individuals. Notable Mennonite collectors include Charles Kauffman, who founded the Kauffman Museum at Bethel College (Kansas, USA); John C. Reimer, a teacher whose collection of pioneer artifacts formed the nucleus of Mennonite Heritage Village at Steinbach, MB; and Erie Sauder, whose living history museum celebrates the industrial heritage of the Black Swamp region in northwest Ohio.
Community pride lends local color to many Mennonite-related museums. In the 1950s and 1960s, historical societies formed museum boards and solicited contributions for fledgling museums. Today these museums, often relying on volunteers, make distinctive contributions to their communities. By focusing on regional history, they reinforce a sense of rootedness and identity.
In recent years, Mennonite entrepreneurs have embraced new concepts for sharing Anabaptist faith and heritage. Five main interpretation and information centers (The People's Place in Intercourse, PA; Visitor Centre (formerly The Meetingplace) in St. Jacobs, ON; Mennonite Information Center in Berlin, Ohio; Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa, ; and Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, In) offer films, exhibits, and educational programs. One trend reflected in these visitor centers is inter-Mennonite participation. Located in a popular tourist area, Menno-Hof, for example, is sponsored by churches of several Mennonite and Amish conferences.
Museum professionals are exploring other ways of attracting tourists. In Berlin, Ohio, and Intercourse, Pa, art galleries exhibit the works of contemporary Mennonite artists. Annual festivals are also popular: Threshing Days in Goessel, Ks; Heritage Festival in Metamora, IL; and Apple Butter Frolic in Harleysville, PA; are but a few of the events that draw thousands of visitors to Mennonite communities.
For at least some museums, professional accreditation and higher technology beckon. The American Association of Museums aids nonprofit museums in achieving standards in exhibit design, educational programming, publications and fund-raising. Some Mennonite museums use computers to aid in research and collections management. Others pursue ever widening constituencies. The Hans Herr House in Lancaster County, PA, for example, advertises its events in more than 60 newspapers in the northeast United States.
For Mennonite-related museums, a mobile society interested in the values that Anabaptist groups represent has serious ramifications. Many of the museums serve a primarily non-Mennonite public. Some museum professionals critique traditional Mennonite exhibits as "cabinets of curiosities" that foster negative stereotypes. Museum personnel agree that, in general, ethnic Mennonites tend to take their heritage for granted, while persons from other traditions seek to understand and appreciate unique aspects of Amish and Mennonite culture.
The best museums compel visitors, of whatever background, to clarify values of faith. In the coming years, as these museums gain stature, they will undoubtedly emphasize values of religious heritage that transcend ethnicity. A list of museums extant in 1987, their locations, dates of founding, and sponsoring agencies follows: The People's Place, Intercourse, PA (1976; Good Enterprises, Ltd.); Springs Museum, Springs: PA (1957; Springs Historical Society); Heritage Hall Museum, Freeman, SD (1976; Freeman Academy); Germantown Mennonite Museum, Philadelphia, PA (1953; Germantown Mennonite Church Corporation); Hans Herr House, Willow Street, PA (1969; Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society); Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Lancaster, PA (1958; Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society); Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, PA (1973; Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania); German Culture Museum, Walnut Creek, Ohio (1980; Heritage Preservation Committee, Inc.); Sauder Farm and Craft Village, Archbold, Ohio (1971; nonprofit organization founded by Erie J. Sauder); Kauffman Museum, North Newton, KA (1910; Bethel College/Kauffman Museum Association); Mennonite Heritage Museum, Goessel, KA (1971; Mennonite Heritage Museum Association); The Mennonite Settlement Museum, Hillsboro, KS (1958; town of Hillsboro); Warkentin House, Newton, KS (1971; Warkentin House Association); Iowa Mennonite Museum and Archives, Kalona, Iowa (1948; Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa); Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach, MB (1964; Mennonite Village Museum [Canada] Inc.); Menno Simons Historical Library/Archives, Harrisonburg, VA (1950; Virginia Mennonite Conference); Historical Center, Richfield, PA (1978; Juniata District Mennonite Historical Society); Penn Alps, Grantsville, MD (1967; Penn Alps, Inc.); Archives of the Brethren in Christ Church, Grantham, PA (1952; Brethren in Christ Church and Messiah College); Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, IN (1906; Board of Education [MC]); The Visitor Centre, St. Jacobs, ON (1979; St. Jacobs Mennonite Church); Mennonite Heritage Center, Metamora, IL (1975; Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society); Menno-Hof, Shipshewana, IN (1987; collaborative effort of several Mennonite conferences and agencies); Doopsgezinde Bibliothek, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Algemene Doopsgezinde Societëit, since 1960 with the U. Amsterdam); Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, MB (1978; Conference of Mennonites in Canada); Heritage Historical Library, Aylmer, ON (1972; Pathway publishers).
Lists of Mennonite-related museums and galleries were published in Festival Quarterly.
See also Museums for a New Century. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1984: 17-21, 46-47, 75-79.
Questionnaire responses received by Rachel Waltner Goossen from 24 Mennonite, Amish, or related museums and historical libraries, during January and February 1987, have been deposited in the Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, KS.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 609-610. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Goossen, Rachel Waltner. "Museums." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M87ME.html.
APA style: Goossen, Rachel Waltner. (1989). Museums. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M87ME.html.