Tag Archives: Volunteer

Guest Blog: Writing the Book on Campbell House

This week we’re handing the reins over to guest blogger Dylan McCartney, a Graduate Research Assistant working with us from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Take it away, Dylan!

When I arrived at the Campbell House in August, I knew very little about Robert Campbell, Virginia Campbell, or St. Louis. I didn’t even call St. Louis home. As a graduate student in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Museum Studies program, the Campbell House is where I will complete a two-year assistantship. And so, since I knew nothing about the Campbells, I was naturally asked to write up the definitive document about them.

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Specifically, it is a new, updated Docent Guidebook. If a docent leads visitors through the house on tours and relates the story of the family and house, then the Docent Guidebook does the same for docents. It is not a script, because the thing that makes a tour of the Campbell House great is that every docent builds their own tour. Instead, the guidebook provides a massive amount of information, too much to possibly fit on a single tour. The thing our docents do best is to internalize the information, relate the most important points, the things they find interesting, and the things the guest finds interesting.

To write the Docent Guidebook, I have spent the better part of five or so months diving deep into the Campbell House archives. I’ve read letters by the Campbells, poured through their receipt books, hunted down newspapers, and worked with the Campbell House Museum’s researcher, Tom Gronski. I researched the objects, the rooms, and even the history of the Museum itself. And, of course, I chatted with the docents, to see what they wanted out of a new guidebook.

touring visitors

Campbell House Docent Tom Keay leads a tour in the Master Bedroom

A new guidebook was needed because a lot of things had changed since the old one. For instance, when the old one was written, the collections hadn’t even been returned to the house after our major restoration was finished! We’re also learning more and more about the Campbells every day. Before this past summer, we didn’t know about a special cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry hallway. We only recently discovered the names of the Campbell House’s architects. And, until a couple of years ago, we weren’t even sure if the Campbells were slaveowners.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: Dylan's pride and joy and the product of many many hours of hard work and research.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: the product of many hours of research and hard work by Dylan!

A new Docent Guidebook also allowed us to correct any myths that have arisen over the years. As with anything dependent upon oral discourse, a comment made twenty years ago by one person can slowly morph into accepted fact. For instance, many visitors have been informed that Virginia Campbell spent $40,000 on the furniture in 1855. In truth, it’s impossible to tell from our archives the exact amount spent, although it is in the tens of thousands. It is also clear that Robert was buying furniture right there with her. The irony of these myths is that it obscures a wonderful story: that Robert and Virginia purchased their furniture half a continent away and shipped it all via train and boat to St. Louis. Robert was even purchasing carpeting and draperies from St. Louis by sending his brother Hugh the dimensions of the rooms!

The result of all this work is 120 pages of thoroughly sourced information about the Campbells, St. Louis, the house, and nearly anything else that we could think of. This document will serve as the go-to source for new docents, interns, researchers, and anyone else looking for a broad yet detailed summary of the Campbell’s story. So if you thought our docents were already great, come take another tour to see how we’ve managed to get even better!

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New Campbell House Courier: Hot off the Press!

Dining, discoveries, mysterious donors and new directions! Click below to read more about what the Campbell House crew has been up to so far in 2014, friends to whom we’ve said farewell, and some of the exciting projects and programs we have coming up in the latest edition of CHM’s seasonal newsletter.


New Campbell House Courier! Click to read/download the newest edition of CHM’s seasonal newsletter.

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2014 – Our Year in Review

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are past and we’ve settled into the swing of 2015, we finally have a chance to take a look back at last year and share some news with you about what CHM has achieved over the past 12 months. In short, 2014 was one of the most successful years in the Campbell House Museum’s history. It was gangbusters and often exhausting, but we couldn’t be more pleased as we’ve crunched the numbers over the past few days. Here’s some of what made 2014 such a banner year.

Record-Breaking Attendance

dennis tour

Docent and Board of Directors member Dennis takes a group through the Museum in December 2014.

In 2014 the Campbell House Museum saw its highest levels of attendance since the mid-1970s, welcoming 4,852 lovely people like you through for tours. For some perspective: the last time our attendance topped 4,800, gas was 44¢ a gallon, the Vietnam War was ending and NBC was debuting a newfangled game show called Wheel of Fortune. While this figure might not seem like a lot at first glance, consider that almost every single one of our nearly 5,000 visitors in 2014 received an hour-long, guided tour led by one of our expert docents. That’s not too shabby in our book.

Stellar Reputation

At the time this post went to press, CHM was ranked as one of the top five St. Louis museums on TripAdvisor, way ahead of many of our big-budget (and wonderful!) friends throughout the city. Over the past several years, the Campbell House has increased its local profile as a must-experience site for St. Louisans and out-of-towners alike and its national profile as a leader for scholarship and research in the Fur Trade, Westward Expansion and Victorian Interior Design. This is reflected not just in our excellent TripAdvisor reviews but in publications like the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal and the Winterthur Portfolio. (p.s. if you haven’t reviewed us on TripAdvisor yet, we’d greatly appreciate some kind words!)

The lucky raffle winner of a shot of bathtub gin from a cup once owned by President U.S. Grant at 2014's #drinkuptweetupSTL

The lucky raffle winner of a shot of bathtub gin from a cup once owned by President U.S. Grant at 2014’s #drinkuptweetupSTL

Outstanding Events

2014 was a great year for special events at CHM. Kicking off in February with our celebration of STL250 and continuing through the year in our collaborations with Union Avenue Opera and #drinkuptweetupSTL with Distilled History and wrapping up with the enormously successful St. Louis Holiday Historic House Tour a few weeks ago, more people than ever are experiencing St. Louis history in unique, engaging ways.

Education, Education, Education

Nearly 500 students, ranging from third graders at the St. Louis French Immersion School to college students studying history, music and museum studies from universities across America stopped by to say hello and learn about the Campbell family and their home in 2014. CHM adopted a new mission this year, to “enliven the history of St. Louis and Westward Expansion through the story of the Campbell family and their home,” and a primary goal of this mission is to engage and involve students and the community. We’re off to a solid start.

But enough of us tooting our own horn.

None of this would have been possible without the incredible STL community, our supporters, members and volunteers. You came to see us, helped us accomplish our mission and supported local history. As we move into 2015, CHM asks for your continued support. We might not be the biggest fish in the pond, but we have an important story to tell and your attendance at our events, your financial support, even the simple act of reading this blog post demonstrates your commitment to making this small institution a big player in the preservation of St. Louis history. Thank you.



Students from Oakville High School visited the Museum and participated in a historic documents workshop in September 2014.


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