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History Takes Time: An Update on the Millermore Reinterpretation Project

Almost six months ago, we closed Millermore  to  begin a major reinterpretation. Our goals are pretty simple: tell more stories about more people that lived and worked at Millermore throughout its 100-year history. Though we have been very busy, if you were to walk into Millermore today, you wouldn’t see a difference. Yet.

So, how do you even begin a reinterpretation project of a house that’s been a part of the museum since the very beginning? We began with the primary sources. Since September, we’ve had a series of staff meetings, welcoming any member of staff that wants to come. Primary sources and documents are shared in advance, and then we all come together to discuss. Along the way, we’ve uncovered quite a few questions, some of which should be no surprise to anyone that has done historical research. 

Examples include:

  • **How did the Miller family get to Texas? Who came first? Who stayed behind to prepare for the rest of the family? We have several different accounts about this.
  • **With the 1860 census, we know that William Brown Miller enslaved 13 African Americans. We know the names of 3 couples: Arch and Charlotte, John and Lucy, and Clayton and Bettie or Betsy. But who are the other seven? Are they children of these couples? We know some names of children, but don’t have birth dates yet for our timeline.
  • **We have names that are spelled 3 different ways. We have variations in birth and death dates. And we have the same names used over and over again. It is a lot to keep track of—and it doesn’t help that William Brown Miller had 11 children with 3 different wives.

We still have many decisions to make about which stories to highlight—and how to share them in a historic house environment. The Slave Dwelling Project later this week fits in perfectly to the overall big picture of reassessing the interpretation. We are so looking forward to learning with Joe McGill about ways to share this complex history. In addition, I’ll be visiting the Harriet Beecher Stowe House at the end of the month, which has just radically redesigned their house tour. I’m hoping there are at least a few ideas that may be of use to us as we continue to move forward.

As a team, we have come to a general consensus about a few stories we want to tell:

  • **We will be talking more about those enslaved at Millermore—as well as their life post-Emancipation. These family’s lives remained intertwined for decades, and with their connections to key African American neighborhoods in Dallas, we can tell a larger story about African American life in North Texas.
  • **Barry Miller, son-in-law of William Brown Miller, provides a unique opportunity to talk about civic engagement and political action. He was involved with Texas politics his entire adult life—and even had a role to play in the suffrage movement.
  • **Evelyn Miller Crowell, daughter of Barry and Minnie, was a key figure in the preservation of Millermore. But she also was a published author—and incredibly active during World War II.

At this point, we’ve completed the first round of primary source research, primarily diving into our own files. Now, a smaller group of us will compile that data and start to determine where we might need additional research.

During the next six months, we’ll continue the research—but also start sharing this research with you in various ways. Elizabeth, our new Curator of Collections and Interpretation, and I will be hanging out in Millermore all day on Saturday, March 2—sharing some of our sources, as well as our questions. We will also have at least one Parlor Talk, likely in May, to continue the discussion. And if all goes according to plan, we’ll reopen Millermore in September.

History takes time. Thanks for being patient!

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