THROUGH DECEMBER 31, COME SEE HOW THE HISTORIC HOME WAS SAVED, MOVED, AND FURNISHED AS MUSEUM’S FIRST STRUCTURE
For almost 50 years, the iconic antebellum Millermore home, the first structure to arrive at Dallas Heritage Village, has been set up as a close replica of how it might have looked in 1861, the year that William Brown Miller first moved his family into their new home. “Millermore Exposed,” a new temporary exhibit through December 30, puts visitors in the role of the curator who has just received the empty home and a few furnishings and is challenged to create an authentic exhibit.
“When the Dallas County Historical Society saved the home from destruction in 1966 and moved it to City Park, they took on the job of taking it back to 1861,” said Evelyn Montgomery, curator, Dallas Heritage Village. “How did they do that? The curators also had to keep in mind that in the 100 years after William Brown Miller lived in the home, it was inhabited by new generations of Millers, who had made various changes and additions. This exhibit asks visitors to imagine what this job was like, how curators learned from people, documents and the house itself.”
For the exhibit, six different types of furnishings are segregated into six rooms. The dining room holds the most important collection – the artifacts received from the Miller family. Only a few pieces of Millermore’s usual furnishings are in this room. Many of the artifacts on view are temporarily returning to Millermore after decades in curatorial storage.
“The Miller’s actual possessions are a surprisingly random collection, including a silk quilt and photograph albums, mixed with a bullet mold, a coal scuttle and a leather lariat, frozen by time into a permanent coil,” added Montgomery.
Ninety percent of the household’s contents are in the parlor, designated for objects from the period of the 1860s, but from sources other than the Millers.
“Here you will see a row of sofas, enough chairs to seat one tenth of Dallas’ population in 1861, china and lamps and toys,” added Montgomery. “All might have been available for purchase by the original Miller inhabitants, but that is as close as they get to being Miller originals. What deep curatorial reasoning placed these objects in this particular room?”
The rest of the first floor is occupied by the educational activities and historical photos, focusing on how the building has affected those whose lives it has touched. Visitors can read thoughts about the house from past residents, friends and museum staff, and leave their own answers to the question “What does Millermore mean to me?”
Upstairs are objects that are used to fill out the period rooms. In the boys’ bedroom is the Village’s small but important collection of furniture made by nineteenth-century German-Texas craftsmen. Pieces include a domino table, wardrobe, day bed and dresser. Some of the pieces have been featured in Texas Furniture, by Lonn Taylor and David B. Warren and in the recently published The Material Culture of German Texans by Baylor University professor Kenneth Hafertepe. A “knock-down” wardrobe composed of six pieces for easy moving will be shown partially assembled.
“In the spirit of Millermore Exposed, the cleverly constructed daybed in this room is naked of textiles – its structure fully viewable,” added Montgomery.
The girls’ room displays the Victorian love of handcrafting by amateurs. Here are many pieces of hair art, including those that are mourning symbols. Two rag dolls are typical of the period, as is a perfectly adequate pastel rendering of grapes, a common accomplishment for young ladies.
“The ladies sketched, knitted, embroidered, tatted and painted china. All women quilted-though not all did it well,” said Montgomery.
The tiny nursery room holds one thing – a desk that was old when Millermore was built. The slant-top desk is Chippendale in style, and most likely made in the 1780s or 1790s, before William Brown Miller was even born.
“His wife Emma may have liked nice new things, but nobody moves into a new house with only new furniture,” added Montgomery. “Previously this desk was in the sitting room rather than the parlor, as Emma would not put such an old, out-of-style thing in her best room.”
“Finally, the master bedroom displays all the things museum staff members don’t usually admit to: the reproductions, modern versions, and pieces from 1880 or 1920 that can pass for 1861 so long as you don’t look too closely,” continued Montgomery. “This room includes all of the curtains and draperies from the house as well as the candles and mattresses and reprints of period newspapers. “
In each room, signage is limited to notes and tags that the 1969 curator might have written while going through these objects and making decisions.
“Additionally, our annual Candlelight celebration on December 10 and 11 will bring an honest example of the differences between our usual Christmas decorating in Millermore and its more likely holiday appearance in 1861,” said Montgomery.
In February, the house will reopen in more familiar form.
Dallas Heritage Village is located at 1515 S. Harwood. The Millermore home is open during all operating hours. Tickets are $9 adults, $7 seniors 65+, $5 for children, ages 4-12. Children under 4 are free. Visit www.dallasheritagevillage.org for more information.