Amy Deaver is a big proponent of resisting the urge to hurry.
The new site manager at the LeDuc Historic Estate in Hastings, who calls herself "a little bit of a Luddite," said she feels historic sites can provide an enclave where people slow down. They can be places to learn about picking wildflowers for tea, hunting for mushrooms, or listening to Scottish poetry.
"If we do a good job, we have an opportunity, not to just teach history," she said. "We have an opportunity to sort of recreate a life philosophy."
Since taking over at LeDuc in January 2014, Deaver's been anything but slow in orchestrating events. She's organized scotch tastings and high teas, a music and author series, and an educational series on spices.
"Everybody that walks in this door has some reason they want to connect with this place," Deaver said. "All we have to do is listen, and these ideas come floating in the door."
For example, the site's volunteer gardeners suggested hosting a rhubarb festival, so they held one last spring, with activities like rhubarb dyeing and baking rhubarb bread over a fire.
The scotch tastings started with a trial tasting with re-enactors and volunteers, and some volunteers showed up in full Scottish regalia, toting instruments to perform Scottish songs.
Deaver's husband, a woodworker, made holders for scotch flights, and they restocked the scotch supply.
During the second public scotch tasting in January, a Burns Night celebration, LeDuc educator Andrew Fox did a dramatic reading of "Address to a Haggis"and the crowd sang "Auld Lang Syne," both written by 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.
They served haggis tartlets with "neeps and tatties" (turnips and potatoes), oatcakes, and shortbread. A Highland dancer and a bagpipe player performed, and Deaver had volunteers from the crowd do dramatic readings of verbose tasting notes found online.
"If we can have fun and teach a little history, we're doing our job," she said.
Deaver claims historic precedence for the scotch-themed events.
"There was a letter that [General William LeDuc] wrote to his dear wife, Mary, during the Civil War and he talked about an empty bottle of scotch in the corner of his tent," Deaver said. "Consequently, we know he imbibed."
Hastings resident Jeff Lucas appreciated the maps of Scotland with the distilleries marked provided to guests.
"Andrew and Amy do such a good job introducing the scotches," he said. "They make it so much fun."
Deaver said they have gotten positive feedback and are planning a Father's Day tasting for a bigger crowd — the parlor only holds about 40 — on the lawn under a tent.
High tea returns
Last year, Deaver launched a Third Sundays series, which features musicians and authors.
In the spring, piano player Butch Thompson, who once led the "A Prairie Home Companion" house band, agreed to play at the estate but only on a real piano. Volunteers hauled in an old piano from one of the outbuildings to the house, sanded it down, painted it flat black and got it tuned.
Under Deaver's charge, they've also reinstituted the practice of holding regular high teas, which according to LeDuc marketing manager Margaret Goderstad, used to be done "only very occasionally."
The teas require a good number of volunteers, and Christine Nordin, of Hastings, just started in a new role as the volunteer coordinator. Nordin, who works as an interpreter at Fort Snelling and who worked at the LeDuc house when it first opened, said she's excited about Deaver.
"That's one of the reasons I want to come back now, because she's got some really cool ideas," Nordin said. "I like the fact that the house is being used for lots of things."
This year, the house celebrates its 10th anniversary as a museum. This fall, Fox said they hope to stage a re-enactment of the visit of President Rutherford Hayes to Minnesota, and Deaver said they may try to hold a ball at the historic Hastings City Hall.
Deaver, who lives two blocks away from LeDuc in a century-old house, has long been a volunteer at the estate. Not everyone shares enthusiasm for her efforts, she admits, adding that devotees of the house "sometimes are very protective of it."
"It's the community's house," she said. "Houses are living, breathing places. I've never been one to be overly cautious with my 100-year-old house, and what do you know, it does just fine."
For instance, last summer when she received permission from the City Council to shoot a cannon at a Civil War weekend, some worried it would break a window.
"Windows get broken," she said, pointing out that, a few years ago, a vandal broke a window in the front parlor. "We can either have broken windows from vandalism, or we can have broken windows from shooting off a cannon. Let's shoot off a cannon."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.