The Harn Homestead works with American Association of Museums

The Harn Homestead & 1889ers Museum, Oklahoma City's long-existing monument to Central Oklahoma's land run legacy, is making a run of its own.


The nonprofit's goal is simple: to make the Homestead " a collection of territorial homes and buildings on 10 acres near N.E. 16th Street and Lincoln Boulevard " a top-tier destination for area visitors.

To get there, the Homestead is working with the American Association of Museums to comprehensively review its operation and learn what metro residents know about the Homestead in an effort to bring them to the attraction more often.

Board members also are asking consultants and architects to evaluate what physical changes, if any, should be made to the property.

In the Harn Homestead's case, the assessment is all about learning how to make the attraction more of a visible and relevant part of the community, said Dewey Blanton, a spokesman for the American Association of Museums.

"You want to engage your local community with your programs," Blanton said. "It is as simple as that."

The Homestead's staff and volunteers are spearheading the review by conducting surveys and holding focus groups. Later, the site will be visited by an association consultant who will make recommendations for needed changes.

The review will be completed later this year. But survey and focus group results so far are giving board members and staff reasons to be pleased, said Cher Golding, the Homestead's executive director.

"We learned that a lot of people have been out here for a wedding or an event, or that their children have been out here for a school program," Golding said, "but they are not coming so much for our tours, and that is a key aspect we are trying to work on promoting.

"We are open to the public year-round, and we want to see what we can do to improve peoples' experiences when they come out here as a visitor," she said. "Ultimately, what we are learning is that we are doing the job of educating elementary students about Oklahoma's territorial history extremely well, but not so well when it comes to the general public."

Today, the Homestead offers both self-guided and guided tours of the buildings on its site, which is a smaller part of a 160-acre tract settled by William Fremont Harn and his wife, Alice, in 1889.

William Harn came to Oklahoma after being appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as a special land commissioner to settle ownership disputes arising out of the 1889 land run.

Besides serving in that role, Harn also developed neighborhoods in early Oklahoma City, most notably Heritage Hills. He and a neighbor also donated 40 acres of land each to the brand-new state of Oklahoma, giving it a place to build its Capitol.

The Harns did not have children. But they did take in Florence Wilson, Alice Harn's niece. She inherited the property after William Harn's death in 1944 and donated it to Oklahoma City in the late 1960s to create a museum about pioneer living.

The city, however, struggled to keep the property open as it endured hard economic times. Philanthropist John Kirkpatrick, working with others, created a nonprofit to take the property off the city's hands in 1986 " creating the Harn Homestead existing today.

Initially, the Harns lived in a one-room house on the property. Later, in a bid to keep Alice Harn from returning to Ohio, William Harn bought a Queen Anne-style home from a Sears & Roebuck catalog, which was built in just six weeks in 1904. He also built what, for Oklahoma, was a unique barn, because it enclosed the homestead's water well, protecting it from harsh winter elements.

The barn burned down in 1922, but Oklahoma National Guardsmen rebuilt and expanded it while the property was owned by Oklahoma City. Today, it is used as a social gathering hall.

Besides the Victorian home and the barn, the property has another working barn built in 1904 and moved onto the site in 1986, as well as Oklahoma's first two-story house, originally built in 1890 by the Shepherd family on land near where Shepherd Mall exists today. Like other buildings there, it came to the site in 1986.

One of the most popular buildings on the property is the old Stoney Point one-room schoolhouse, built in 1897. It still is used by teachers to give their students an idea of what living in territorial Oklahoma was like.

Teachers are able to prepare and presents lessons from the Stoney Point school curriculum guide, and students use slates and read from the McGuffey Reader.

Children also are encouraged to play historical games outside the school, weather permitting.

Besides providing the schoolhouse operation and tours, Homestead employees and volunteers also work to acquire additional artifacts and to preserve the site's buildings.

Golding said surveys and focus group results also show area residents would be more willing to visit the property if it offered changing exhibits of some type.

"We have artifacts we can turn into exhibits, and other exhibits we can bring in," she noted, "but what we don't have is a place where we can exhibit those."

One option, she said, is to build a new visitors' welcome center for exhibits that also would include administrative spaces and a gift shop.

"We are torn right now. Do you try to build something that is a facade that looks old, or, do you build a modern structure to where you leave it and step back in time?"

Whatever is decided, Golding said, "that will take a big capital campaign." "Jack Money

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