Posted by: Bruno Reinert on Dec/16/2019

Oakhurst Experience Expands History with Hospitality

Minnetrista has transformed Oakhurst into a dynamic hub for family and community engagement. Oakhurst, the 4,100 square-foot home, was completed in 1895 and occupied by the GA Ball family until 1982. In 1995, Minnetrista opened the house to the public as the centerpiece of Oakhurst Gardens. It provided experiences themed around nature and the environment. More recently, the home was furnished with original and representative pieces. It attracted occasional visitors interested in the home's notable architectural details.

In 2015, Minnetrista received a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to develop a new interpretive plan that would increase visitation. Minnetrista worked with design consultants to turn Oakhurst into a family destination. Instead of simply retelling the past, Minnetristas decided to build upon the home’s heritage. They created a captivating setting for new memory-making adventures.

In 2017, Minnestrista added a variety of learn and play activities for families. On Oakhurst Special Saturdays, families visited the home to take part in activities such as painting, yoga, games, and crafts. Following the success of this program, Minnetrista took the next step. With funding from The Community Foundation of Muncie & Delaware County’s 2018 Quarterly Competitive Grants, they set out to create and install significant new exhibit elements and hands-on activities throughout the first floor of the home.

This project began with a small installation in the kitchen of Oakhurst. The exhibit told the story of the creation of the Ball Blue Book in George and Frances Ball's home. Following that, Oakhurst’s first floor underwent a complete re-imagining. They balanced telling the story of the GA Ball family while creating a repeatable, family-focused experience. Minnetrista created engaging spaces in each area of the home. They blended historical and contemporary furnishings with digital components and hands-on activities. A house host at Oakhurst welcomes guests into the home. To further the GA Ball family’s legacy of hospitality, guests are also offered tea, coffee, and cookies during their visit.

Staff and designers thoughtfully included stories about the home and the family that lived there. Visitors can take inspiration from those stories. For example, George, Frances, and Betty Ball read together often, so the home provides opportunities for our community to do the same. In the library, book titles collected by George Ball and his daughter, Betty, line the shelves. In addition to titles read by the family, the library also includes some contemporary titles that align with the classics. This part of the project was in collaboration with Ball State’s Family Literacy Coalition. The room also contains a shelf where guests can see books that inspired members of the Ball family as well as members of our community today. Inside these books are bookmarks that tell the story of the inspiration. Guests can also share their own titles. These shelves will change from time to time.

Other stories and experiences in the home convey family members’ passions. Visitors can read stories of gardening, travel, collecting, playing, and cooking. These stories are shared in a lot of interactive ways. Glass panels show narrative text. Enlarged flipbooks display photos. A digital desktop encourages deeper exploration including designing your own garden. Digital and physical games are available to encourage visitors to play together. The kitchen also boasts hands-on activities. Families can practice canning with fake foods. Imagination and creativity are encouraged in every room of the first floor. Visitors can open drawers, cupboards, and cabinets to discover what’s inside – all of which can be played with. Every room of the house and the surrounding gardens have “ok-to-play” zones.