Religion Amid Silk Stockings

Bailey Roberts, Heritage Interpreter 

(Originally Published in the January 25, 2018 edition of The Beacher)

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The Gilded Age.

A period in American history between the 1870s and early 1900s. It was a time of great material progression. Industry was becoming a powerful force in society, dominating towns and cities across civilized America, even right here in Michigan City with the Haskell & Barker Freight Car Co., as well as Chicago’s Pullman company.

But while the material world was rapidly progressing, social life was amid great upheaval. Large waves of immigrants came to the great United States in search of work, many arriving in Michigan City for factory jobs. Women, aware of their social standings, began the fight for suffrage. Even children were at the center of this upheaval as child labor became a contentious matter. That is why this period was coined “the Gilded Age,” for it was a book by Mark Twain, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that this period took its name. Specifically, it was because America’s corrupt system was masked by the gilded beauty of industry and material progress.

Michigan City was not devoid of such tensions. Along Washington Street, large ornate homes such as Barker Mansion dominated the landscape in front of the billowing smokestacks of Haskell & Barker. This area became known as the Silk Stocking District — the street on which Michigan City’s wealthy landowners thrived.

But it was here, among these wealthy landowners, that the fate of Michigan City’s population was decided. They were the ones who hired and brought in the many immigrants from across the globe. Traveling with these ambitious young laborers were their many gods and stories, eager to take root in a new city. Mr. Barker’s own factory indirectly contributed to the melting pot of religious and spiritual life in Michigan City.

The Civil War, of course, was a tumultuous time in American history, yet it also saw the origins of a rapidly growing Jewish community. Mostly from Germany and eastern Europe, these new settlers established themselves and worshipping in rented warehouses before finally becoming a large, flourishing congregation in 1907. The Jewish community would continue to grow, and the Sinai Temple we know today on Franklin Street would not be dedicated until 1953.

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Theatrical Production of an unknown date at Sinai Temple.

 

   For the Christian community, the story begins in 1849 in an old warehouse-turned chapel called St. Ambrose — the first Catholic church in Michigan City. It opened to accommodate the large influx of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Mass would be celebrated by a priest who traveled all the way from South Bend. Nine years later, in 1858, a second church was constructed to accommodate the large German population and was named St. Mary’s Church.

The Gilded Age saw a continuation of this large wave of immigration. While the Irish and German communities grew larger in Michigan City, both churches could not support their growing parishes. Thus, under the same priestly leadership, two churches became one with the opening of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception in 1867. The land used for this new church was once an old Catholic cemetery. The bodies were exhumed and moved to Calvary Cemetery, which was attached to Greenwood Cemetery. And that same first building was incorporated into this new one. The large, ornate stained-glass windows were added at this time.
St. Mary’s had grown so extensively, it became the center of Catholic life in Michigan City. But what about the other religious communities?
A prime example would be Michigan City’s famous family, the Barkers. John Barker Sr. came to Michigan City from Massachusetts in 1836 with nothing but his name and some money. Being the youngest of 11 children and of five sons meant he needed to make a living for himself. He settled here in Michigan City, which was your average frontier town. Barker Sr. descended from a long line of English Puritans, so he was bringing his faith here as well. When he had a son, another John Barker we will refer to as Mr. Barker, he had to share the faith. Mr. Barker eventually took over the factory, becoming president of his father’s empire. But with his wealth, Mr. Barker contributed much to Michigan City’s spiritual community.

   Kitty corner from Barker Mansion along Seventh and Franklin streets (the Silk Stocking District), Mr. Barker helped build Michigan City’s first YMCA, which was a powerful tool in spreading the gospel. It acted as a place where interfaith dialogue between many different denominations could take place. It also provided activities, shelter and an overall safe harbor for Michigan City youth. His money also went to building Trinity Episcopal Church, which was strategically placed in the city’s geographical center. He even had a room in his own mansion that was used to house the Episcopal bishop when on important duties within the area.

Later, Mrs. Barker funded the Bishop’s Mansion attached to the church. It also was his factory, a symbol of what great spiritual leaders saw as a threat to religion, that brought in the faiths of Michigan City. Just as the German and Irish Catholics worshipped at St. Mary’s, the Polish immigrants established themselves at St. Stan’s, and even immigrants from the Ottoman Empire established the first Islamic Center in Michigan City. Mr. Barker used his material empire to create a melting pot of faiths in Michigan City. Even the Barker household was a melting pot of faiths. Mr. Barker was an Episcopalian, but his wife, Katherine Fitzgerald Barker, was an Irish Catholic.

Katherine Fitzgerald came to Michigan City after answering an advertisement for teachers for hire. Mr. Barker had just built a school called Barker Hall, attached to Trinity Episcopal, after his wife and three children died. Katherine Fitzgerald, born in New Hampshire of Irish immigrant parents, fell in love with Mr. Barker. They got married within two years, an Episcopalian and Catholic making a home and family together.

 

During her marriage, Mrs. Barker was not very active in the Catholic church, based on mansion archival records. It is theorized she kept her beliefs private and in the home. During this time, Catholics were not well-liked within the community. Irish Catholics were the most targeted and hated. So, Mrs. Barker’s faith, married to a wealthy Episcopal man, would be seen as incompatible with her husband. She seemed more involved with the Episcopal community for this reason. For instance, in 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Barker went to London with the Episcopal Bishop of the Indiana Diocese.

But with the birth of a daughter, Catherine, the Catholic faith was picked up again. In 1907, Catherine was baptized at 11 in St. Anne’s parish in New Hampshire. A year later in 1908, Catherine held her first communion in St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, right at the end of the magnificent Silk Stocking District.

As Catherine grew older, the more she became involved in the Catholic church and their causes. She gave large donations to the Catholic church and donated furniture to St. Mary’s, such as the Bishop’s chair we see today. In 1927, she donated the Katherine Barker Memorial Altar. The lime- stone altar was dedicated to her mother, where it stands proudly in a parish Mrs. Barker would have loved to attend.

Church interior 1967
1960’s image of the Katherine Barker Memorial Altar in St. Mary’s

The Gilded Age of America was marked by a turbulent period of material progression and corruption, but most of all, the importance of faith in the community. The lives of Michigan City’s factory workers and wealthy elite were sculpted from the blending of immigrant communities, marriages and social outlets.

Religion from all corners of the globe thrived in the Silk Stocking District.

Thanks go to our friends at The Beacher for originally publishing this work.

 

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Lampshades of the Barker Mansion

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By Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion

 

As visitors walk through the Barker Mansion during tours, they view many things such as marble fireplaces, beautifully carved woodwork, hand woven tapestries on the walls, and stunning light fixtures scattered throughout the rooms. However one thing visitors may notice missing are the lampshades that were commonly seen on light fixtures and lamps of Victorian and Gilded Age mansions. The lampshades that hung in the Barker Mansion were typically made of silk and other delicate fabrics with elaborate stitching or beading to enhance the elegance of the room they were in.

Currently on display in the foyer are eight of the original Barker lampshades. These lampshades were taken from the rooms they hung in and moved to the archives a number of years ago. They will only be on display for a short time to prevent the silk from becoming damaged.

Among the lampshades within the case, are two with a rather interesting history. The first is the small red lampshade that sits in the back left corner that has the stamp “Cricklite” on the inner rim. Also in the case is an almost identical pink lampshade that has only three differences: the color, the size, and the absence of the “Cricklite” stamp. These two lampshades, as well as several others in the case, are covers for fairy lamps. They were candle burning lamps that peaked in popularity during the Victorian Era. The most well known in the business of fairy lamps was Samuel Clarke, who was a candle maker who patented the holder for his candles. He outsourced the production of the candle holders and lamps to other companies and was a genius in advertising. Clarke protected his patents fiercely, but that did not stop other companies from copying as much of his design as possible. The red lampshade that has the “Cricklite” stamp is one of Clarke’s design. The pink lampshade is a well made copy from one of his competitors. The Barker Mansion Archives also currently hold three more red “Cricklites” and four yellow “Cricklites”. The yellow shades hung in the foyer through the years but are unfortunately not able to be displayed due to their poor condition.

The lampshades on display represent only a small number of the total that exist in our archives. The ones chosen for this case were chosen not only for their excellent condition, but also to show our guests the variety in lampshades that were utilized during the Barker’s time. Make sure to check out this temporary exhibit during your next visit to the Barker Mansion!

Decking the Halls of Barker Mansion

By Bailey Roberts, Barker Mansion Heritage Interpreter

The Gilded Age of America, a time of great wealth, prosperity and industry was also the Golden Age of Christmas. Twas the Night Before Christmas was published as was Gift of the Magi, both beloved Christmas stories in the height of Gilded Age America. But while these may serve as echoes into the world of this period of American History, it lacks in giving people the opportunity to experience Christmas during this time. Jumping forward from 1905 to 2017, the Barker Mansion still gets decorated every year to celebrate the holidays and give guests a sneak peak into the world of Christmas in the Gilded Age.

What truly makes Christmas at the mansion so special is the work that is put into setting it all up. The Christmas trees and room decorations are all set up by volunteers in various community organizations. The spirit of giving is thus constantly overflowing in the halls and rooms of the mansion, a testimony to the philanthropy of Mr. Barker. It’s a way of giving back to the man behind Michigan City, it’s a way of keeping the spirit of their family’s celebrations alive, 112 years later.

With the mansion being decorated, it feels so lived in. It’s always felt comfortable and inviting, but Christmas time makes it seem like the Barkers could walk through the door at any second. That notion is comforting, for we try our best to recreate the life and times of the Barker family when they made this home the center of their daily life and lifestyle. For example, dominating the Foyer is a Christmas Tree decorated from base to angel in Red and White, complimenting the red rugs, plaster ceiling and limestone fireplace.

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This is my first Christmas at the mansion. I began as an intern in the summer but became a staff member after taking a semester off college to transfer to Valparaiso University. It’s exciting, being able to see the Mansion come to life in the spirit of the holidays. Each room slowly being decked in various colors and decorations from silver and gold, Nativity Scenes, and a large model train; a testimony to the religious and industrial life of the Barker Family.

We’ve been finding a lot of newspaper clippings, as well, talking about various Christmas Parties that the Barkers were throwing around this time of year. December is one of out busiest months this year. We have so much going on at the mansion from meetings to field trips and parties. Mr. and Mrs. Barker would be pleased to see the house being used for social events as they would have 112 years ago.

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So, my thoughts on Christmas at the mansion? Working in this Gilded Age home, surrounded by the impressive decorum of Christmas makes me a truly happy historian. This house is so unique, so lucky that the family is still working with the mansion to keep it in its historic image, to keep its history thriving and attention grabbing in this quickly modernizing world. Christmas at the mansion is taking a break from reality and being able to settle down in the quiet comfort of Christmas music, Christmas trees, and historical interpretation of the lives once lived.

 

Barker Mansion volunteers honored

Barker Mansion Top 5 Volunteers 2017. Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, Carolyn Pahs
Volunteers Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, and Carolyn Pahs are pictured above. All were top hour earners in 2017.

Michigan City’s Barker Mansion held an evening in appreciation of its volunteers on Friday, November 17, 2017. During the event, which was held in the ornate Drawing Room, volunteers were recognized for their dedication to the historic site and their creativity in planning programs.

“We absolutely could not operate in this capacity without our volunteers,” said Director Jessica Rosier. “Volunteers are essential to everything we do, from leading school groups and tours to marketing to research.”

The top five volunteers in 2017, in terms of hours, are as follows: Carolyn Pahs of Michigan City (92.5 hours), Pat Frankinburger of LaPorte (89 hours), Bruce Frankinburger of LaPorte (60 hours), Sandy Komasinski of Beverly Shores (40.5 hours), and Anthony Holt of Michigan City (32 hours). Rosier stressed that any time commitment, whether it’s once per week or once per year, is needed and appreciated.

In addition to providing recognition to volunteers, the casual event included dinner and games. Those interested in volunteering at the mansion can email jrosier@emichigancity.com.

Overcoming Stigmas through Interpretation

The following article was published in the National Association for Interpretation‘s Legacy magazine, aimed at professionals working in parks and museums. The content is property of Legacy and was written by Barker Mansion director Jessica Rosier.

 

If you’ve seen one historic home museum, you’ve seen ‘em all. Only old people visit there. They don’t allow kids inside. Looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive.

Historic home museums can be burdened with stigmas. These stigmas provide a challenge when it comes to attracting visitors and sharing an interpretive story. The Barker Mansion in Michigan City, Indiana was faced with many of these challenges when I began as director a couple years back. I like to stay that the mansion had been asleep for a few decades and was in need of a gentle awakening.  Waking up from that deep sleep proved hard. It meant replacing tour scripts with interpretive outlines, shifting from an artifact-based tour to a more stories-based tour, and just getting people to realize we were an interesting place they could visit with nice, welcoming, trained interpreters! I have spent the past two-and-a-half years trying to accomplish these goals through successes and failures. In the following paragraphs, I want to share with you how the Barker Mansion has tried to overcome the stigmas of our sleepy years through interpretation. It is my hope that you can apply some of these ideas, or at least learn from our bouts of trial and error, at your own historic home museum.

If you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all.

On a superficial level, this statement has some truth. What do you expect when touring an historic home? Fine woodwork? Rich textiles? Fancy artwork? Yes, yes, and yes. While some folks can gawk at these features all day, others want more or they’ll quickly view your historic home as just another one they’ve checked off their list. Trust me: your visitors want stories, they want gossip, and they want to feel like an insider. This was my theory, at least, when I started at the Barker Mansion in 2015.

At that time our standard tour was extremely artifact-based and did not apply any interpretive principles. While people loved the grandness of the mansion, I could immediately see their eyes glazing over with the information overload as nearly every artifact in all 38 rooms was described in painstaking detail. It was simply too much for a person’s brain to compute and quite impersonal. Tilden was probably turning in his grave, as his second principle, information, as such, is not interpretation, was violated again and again.

Through researching the family diaries, letters, and scrapbooks, I began to slowly rework the tour outline. We began to focus less on the artifacts and architecture and more on the family story through interpretation. Is a visitor really going to care that Mr. Barker’s cigar box is made of Capodimonte Porcelain that was hand painted in Naples, Italy over 200 years ago? Maybe. What’s going to really pique their interest is that the box was a fixture in the mansion’s library, which turned into his no-ladies-allowed man cave at night, a place where card playing, whiskey drinking, and cigar smoking were commonplace amid cutting business deals with clients from his nearby freight car factory.

Morning Room at Barker Mansion

To beat the if you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all stigma, you need to get the back story on the home’s residents. While I understand that not all historic homes are going to have documentation on the previous residents, it can be found through creative means. Visit your local historical society to pull records related to the family. Genealogy quests, court records, and newspaper clippings can help you piece together a person’s life in the absence of written correspondence or scrapbooks. If this sounds daunting, or if you have limited staff, consider partnering with local high schools, universities, or senior centers on research projects.

Another easy, but sometimes scary, way to cure the seen ‘em all stigma is to literally let them see it all. Our Behind the Scenes Tour was released in 2015 to explore all the spaces that are off-limits during a normal guided tour. We offer this interpretive tour at least once per month, and tickets typically sell-out far in advance. We keep the tour groups small to allow for an intimate experience. Visitors get to see inside all the closets, cupboards, storage rooms, offices, the basement, and enter the rooms that are normally roped off. We took Tilden’s fifth principle, interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, pretty seriously with this one! This immersive experience takes trust on the interpreter’s part but is one of the most rewarding tours we do based on positive guest reaction. After viewing all of the hidden blemishes and inner workings (even down to the fuse boxes and plumbing) of our home, a guest could never lump us into the seen ‘em all category. Your historic home, no matter how small or seemingly uninteresting, can easily offer this type of interpretive tour. Offer the tour at night and equip each guest with a flashlight for an added feel of excitement.

Only old people visit there.

Don’t get me wrong, we love our senior citizen visitors. Retired folks on vacation and bus groups from retirement homes were the mansion’s bread and butter when I started as director. People of an older generation have a deep respect and interest in the fine details of the mansion. They often have great stories to share about their upbringing, as items inside the mansion spark fond memories from childhood. Welcoming seniors can be great fun, but I did not feel it should be the only group we were serving. To that end, I decided early on that we would target two additional groups: young families and millennials.

Designing programming specifically for families also helped us beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma, which was quite strong when I began as director (and something we still hear from time to time today). Our garden provided the perfect setting for an inaugural kids program. I called on my friend, and local naturalist, Cookie Ferguson to create “Kids’ Nature Play in the Garden”. During the program, Cookie urged kids to explore nature as a young Catherine Barker (heiress to the family fortune) would have done in the early 1900’s. The activity was priced at just $2 a child (a way to overcome the looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive stigma) and included story time, exploration, a take-home craft, and a snack. Cookie is now in her third year of facilitating this program for us. Although it’s a program aimed at youngsters, it really becomes cross-generational as you see infants, stay-at-home moms and grandparents interacting with their kids in the mansion. If you don’t have the skills to facilitate nature programming at your site, consider reaching out to a local Master Naturalist group in your area to design the program. And if you don’t have gardens or green space at your property, try following the format with an indoors scavenger hunt on rotating topics.

Another program designed to follow Tilden’s sixth principle, interpretation addressed to children should…follow a fundamentally different approach and beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma is our “Night at the Mansion” sleepovers. Available upon request by scout and youth groups, kids can “camp out” in the mansion’s Drawing Room for the evening. The evening includes a mansion tour geared toward kids and a pizza party. Lights out follow viewing of the movie “A Night at the Museum”. The kids have a simple breakfast of orange juice and granola bars before departing the next morning. Each child walks away with an embroidered Barker Mansion patch and bragging rights that they got to spend the night in Michigan City’s most historic building. This program is, hands-down, my favorite experience that we offer. I love hearing girls giggling in their sleeping bags at midnight as they lay under the ornately-carved plaster ceiling surrounded by world-class artwork. No matter your interpretive site, you can offer an immersive experience like this quite easily (provided you have a staff member or volunteer crazy enough to camp out with all those kids).

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We’ve planned a couple programs specifically aimed at millennials over the past year. We struggle to reach this group, which is ironic because myself and most of my staff fall into this category. Our best ideas to reach millennials have involved partnering with local breweries and distilleries, something we felt would appeal to this age group. Our “Hop the Cosmos” stargaze featured our local brewery, Zorn, dispensing beer while the night sky was interpreted via a powerful telescope by friend Brad Bumgardner. To relate back to our historic roots, we created an interpretive display about stargazing during the Victorian era. Folks really enjoyed lounging in the garden after dark and sipping beer, but paid little attention to our interpretive information, so I feel we failed in this area.

Another program geared toward millennials and aimed at defeating our only old people visit there stigma was the “Bootleggin’ at Barker” event, which was a Prohibition-era cocktail party largely organized by social media platform Dig the Dunes. Guests roamed from room to room of the mansion while sampling throwback cocktails prepared by local bars. Mansion volunteers were stationed in each room with “cheat sheets” on the history of the home so they could share interpretive tidbits with guests; this was an attempt to channel Tilden’s fourth principle, the chief aim of interpretation is not instruction but provocation. Our staff was very pleased with the amount of questions we fielded about the artifacts and the Barker family throughout the evening.

Couple in Monuments Room at Bootleggin

These two events obviously took a lot of resources and planning; permits to serve alcohol had to obtained, partnerships established with local breweries and bars, and a big pool of volunteer help recruited. We were very intentional in how we marketed these two events geared toward millennials as well; we placed more emphasis on social media marketing and less on traditional newspaper press releases. We were sure to partner with the businesses that are thought of as “hip” and “cool” too.

Your site may be clouded with some of the stigmas just mentioned, or you may have an entirely different set of burdens to bear. Whatever the case, it is my hope that you could relate to some of the aforementioned examples, and that you find inspiration in designing programming for your interpretive site. Certainly not everything I have tried here at the Barker Mansion has been a success, or has reached the groups I intended. We have had some big misses, along with our successes. I do know, though, that more folks are feeling welcome at the mansion and more are wanting to learn our interpretive story and that can be counted as progress any day.

Are we haunted?

The following article was submitted to the National Association for Interpretation’s Great Lakes Region newsletter by TJ Kalin, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion (Michigan City, IN). While the content was aimed toward museum professionals, we wanted to share.

Do guests ask if your site is haunted?

There is a difficult balancing act between telling guests what they want to know about ghost stories and scaring visitors away. You certainly do not want your museum known for being haunted! Working in a Gilded Age house museum I get asked about ghosts quite often. Our solution to guests’ inquiries and the interpretive difficulties incurred was to hold our Barker Blackout Tours. On a few nights in October we walked guests through the mansion in total darkness with only tea-lights guiding the way. Along the way we told spooky experiences staff have had in the mansion but also we interpreted what it is like to work at the mansion, the history of some local legends and the history of Gilded Age and where the stereotype of the haunted Victorian mansion began. Overall, it was a fun way to interpret our ghost stories without scaring guests, all while sticking to our interpretive goals.Barker Mansion, date unknown

A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Jessica Rosier

 Jessica Rosier, the Director of the Barker Mansion, has not always been a Hoosier. She was born and raised in northern Minnesota, which is where she first fell in love with nature. Rosier’s passion for nature compelled her into earning her master’s degree in geography with a concentration in tourism planning and development from St. Cloud State University.

Rosier recently gained her Hoosier status when she and her husband moved here not too long ago.

“About six years ago, my husband got transferred for work in Northwest Indiana, which is when I became a Hoosier,” she said.

Rosier and her husband initially resided in Valparaiso where she worked at the Dunes State Park, but then she was promoted and transferred to Indianapolis with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“We really missed life in Northwest Indiana and in the Dunes. The Barker Mansion Director job opened up about two years ago, and we knew we wanted to live in Michigan City, so I applied, got it, and here we are today.”

As the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier is the secret face behind the scenes.

“I am kind of the support behind the scenes person. The Barker Mansion leads tours and plans special events, which I lead at times, but my interpreters are the ones usually leading the tours,” she said. “My job is to make sure that we have money to do these things, the marketing is going out, the websites are up to date, staff schedules are in place, and I also help to manage repairs on the building, so I work with contractors quite a bit too.”

Her favorite part about working as the Director for the Barker Mansion is being able to work with a historic building that has lots of history behind it and a lot of potential for the future.

“My favorite part about working here is that the mansion is a work in progress, with a lot of potential. When I got here two years ago, I like to say that the mansion was sleeping and it had been sleeping for a few decades and it’s my job to gently wake it up,” Rosier stated.

Rosier and her staff work to try and get people back to the mansion who have not visited in a while, as well as introduce it to those who have never been.

“We’ve been trying out a lot of different programs to get in a lot of people in their 20s and 30s to revisit this place and realize that it is a value to the community. Then, they can start bringing their kids to get the next generation invested in this place,” she said. “It is also a big goal to get people coming back again and again instead of just coming once in elementary school. We are starting to see that, so it is really exciting when we start recognizing our guests and remembering their names.”

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Rosier dressed as the Barker’s Dining Room maid, Alice Smith, at a birthday party last fall.

When on a tour of the Barker Mansion, the tour guides will claim and share that the mansion is haunted. Rosier has been working as the Barker Mansion’s Director for a couple of years now, but has yet to encounter any haunted scenarios.

“I have not encountered anything suspicious, but many of my staff members have. Many of them have stories about seeing, hearing, and even feeling things when in the mansion. I do trust my team and I do believe it, but I just have not experienced it myself,” she said.

Outside of working as the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier enjoys being outside and supporting local businesses.

“I love being outside, even in the winter, and I think that comes from growing up in northern Minnesota. I try to go to the beach every day and walk or run with my dog. My husband and I love to go hiking, especially at the Dunes… we love the Dunes,” she said. “We also love trying new local restaurants in town. We really enjoy supporting local businesses. I love going to thrift stores and I like to quilt when I have time.”

Right now, during the mansion’s winter hours, tours are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. There are also special events that the mansion puts on that can be found on the website.

If you would like to learn more about the Barker Mansion, or see what special events are going on in the near future, click here.