Historic Cherry Hill House receives grants for updated tour, new exhibit room

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Historic Cherry Hill, a home in the South End of Albany built 235 years ago by the land-rich Van Rensselaer family, received two federal grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences totaling $98,165.00 for a new project that will allow updated tours and add an interpretive exhibit. 

The multi-year endeavor, entitled “We Carry It with Us: Reinterpretation at Historic Cherry Hill,”  comprises a new exhibit in the orientation room and a revamping of its primary tour that refocuses on diverse stories surrounding Historic Cherry Hill and related to race, class, privilege and inequality. The grants will fund the planning phase of the project with the goal of implementing the exhibit and tour in 2026, though the museum has already begun this reinterpretation of Cherry Hill’s history through its own tour and programs, said Shawna Reilly, director of education. 

An educational focus group with local teachers planted the seeds for “We Carry It with Us” in 2018, Reilly said. Educators were looking for support in telling Black stories and women’s history, and an audience survey in 2019 revealed the same gaps in Cherry Hill’s programming.

“When people thought of Cherry Hill, it didn’t necessarily reflect their personal stories,” Reilly said. “Our mission is to try to help people make a personal connection to the house so that they can have a better understanding of their personal histories. If they’re not connecting to the story that we’re telling, then we need to change the story that we’re telling.”

The museum received a federal grant for “Historical African American Experiences at Cherry Hill” in 2020. The project allowed Cherry Hill to research more diverse stories and digitize its collection. “We Carry It with Us” will build off this research.

Much like the reinterpreted tour, the new orientation exhibit will offer diverse perspectives on Cherry Hill’s history. The house sits atop a hill in the South End, adding to the disconnect from the community. “You can’t even look out the window and see where you are in our orientation,” Reilly said.”

The orientation room will be completely redone to not only make the space more welcoming but also help contextualize the history of the house with the community and help visitors understand the timeline of Cherry Hill from being built in 1787 to its transformation into the museum in 1963.

“A lot of this is spurred by our vision to be a better asset to our community,” Reilly said. “With this next piece, they will hopefully start to see their personal history here and feel a deeper connection to it.”

 

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