Poplar Forest's visitors grow as historic houses struggle - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Poplar Forest's visitors grow as historic houses struggle


History can be fascinating, intriguing, or even moving.

But rarely will you hear it be described as fun.

Poplar Forest's Wayne Gannaway is that exception.

"History can be fun," said Gannaway, who serves as Poplar Forest's Director of Institutional Advancement. "In fact people come to historic sights when they're engaging and when they're fun and that's what we're trying to do."

Poplar Forest, which served as Thomas Jefferson's personal retreat, is finding new, unique ways to draw visitors.

Five years ago the historic house began hosting a fall wine festival. Organizers say it's growing in popularity.

Plus next month Poplar Forest will host its first ever craft beer tasting event.

Gannaway said it's all about connecting a new generation with history.

"Jefferson not only loved wine and had it imported but he also loved beer and he actually brewed it," Gannaway said. "He grew hops and he brewed it here on-site. So we're leveraging that historical fact."

So far it's working.

Poplar Forest has seen its number of visitors grow by around six percent in the last two years.

That number becomes more impressive when you see the drop off in attendance at historic houses as a whole.

The Washington Post reports the average attendance at historic houses is down 20 percent nationwide.

Gannaway said it's a sign Poplar Forest is doing something right.

But he adds that the goal is to keep finding new ways to connect with visitors.

"If you stand still like a lot of museums are finding the future is going to keep moving and you're going to get left behind," he said.

Friday, March 15 Poplar Forest will open for the season.

The beer tasting event will be held April 13, which is Jefferson's birthday.

For more information on the historic site and the beer tasting event click here.

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