About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In the August 2010 blog on America’s Great Outdoors I advanced the notion that in order to better preserve historic resources the United States needed to tackle the problem of depopulation.

If people do not live near historic resources most become unfamiliar with the importance of these historic places. In a sense, depopulation is contributing to the challenges for preserving significant resources.

Could there ever be too many people living near historic resources? The Guardian News for Friday December 3, 2010, shows that too many people can also be a problem. “Italy’s Abundance of Heritage Sites Leads to Indifference” shows that when there are a great many sites interspersed with a large population, the loss or deterioration of historic places is not seen as a call to action.

In America, the call to action in terms of rural resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation seems be to blunt rapid development of areas adjacent to urban cities, resorts, and other popular destinations. The Trust’s Preserving America’s Rural Heritage intersects with population issues, but seems more focused on inducing visits through Heritage Tourism rather than figuring out how to help people to learn to live in those wonderful environments.

When I worked at the Sibley Historic Site in Mendota in the late 1990s, a study suggested that capacity for the Sibley House was about 7,000 people per year. More than that might love the resource to death. Beyond even this study focuses on visitation. I am unaware of any broad study of what the population density capacity near a historic resources is in general.

In a sense, to preserve historic resources, they need to be legible to people. If the resources are not seen on a daily basis, or as common as trees in a forest, it is hard for the resources to be seen.

The Guardian’s story along with obvious threats to historic resources in Minnesota due to centralizing forces that encourage rural depopulation show that as in a great many things, balance is critical.

Perhaps it is time to undertake a study of population densities around historic resources to determine if there is an optimum level, and if so what that might be.

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2 Responses to Population capacity for historic resources

  1. Connie Lies says:

    I believe it depends on the resource. Some may need many people such as the Mill City Museum. Some may need the absence of people such as wild prairies.
    Each site needs to be evaluated separately or at the most as a group of like sites.
    A little historic home may only need one occupant to ensure its viability. A Glensheen may need thousands and good advertizing.


  2. Like many museums, ours has experienced some attendance fall-offs in recent years. One council member expressed concern and asked why our funding levels should remain steady in light of this. I responded that walk-in visitors are but a small part of our overall mission. As a collection institution, we have a responsibility to the collections and other properties we maintain. It may not be sexy or flashy, but it is definitely integral.

    In an oh so polite way I was trying to say that it is not for just the walk-ins that we are here–that there is much, much more we do which has little in correlation with visitation.

    Not sure if this is what you had in mind, but it was in mine so I shared it 🙂


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