The History of Frilandsmuseet - 'The Old Houses'

The courtyard at the Falster Farmhouse


The history of Frilandsmuseet (The Open-Air Museum) saw its humble beginnings on a winter's day in December 1923, on a meadow by Maribo Søndersø lake near the Gammel Skovnæs farm. On this day, Alex Holch, the district revenue officer and chairman of the then Lolland-Falsters Stiftsmuseum (Lolland-Falster Diocese Museum) had summoned the engineer and manager of Maribo Sugar Works, Victor Kolbye, to a meeting. But - why were the two gentlemen meeting on a meadow on a cold December day? Well, there was a good reason for this. The chairman of the museum wanted to convince the manager of the sugar works that the area, which belonged to Danish Sugar in Copenhagen, should form the foundation for an open-air museum for Lolland-Falster.

On his many tours around the county as a district revenue officer, Alex Holck had discovered that the region's old buildings were being demolished to make room for contemporary buildings. With an open-air museum, it would be possible to conserve the endangered building culture in one place, thus preserving a glimpse of the ancestors' life in the country.

Alex Holck spoke convincingly, and he was entrusted with an area of 4,000 m2 and initially a free 10-year lease. At the meeting, the chairman of the museum already had a couple of houses at hand, but even so, he was soon busy making deals and planning the transfer of the houses.

The area was quickly fenced off, and as early as in 1924, the first load of building parts arrived. It was a huge undertaking, and the dismantling and transport had to be done with great care. Every single element, down to the tiniest part, was numbered and transported along with heavy oak timber, bricks, wooden boards, doors and windows to the fenced-off area by Maribo Søndersø.

After three years of hard work, the museum chairman had finally reached his goal. On Friday 29 May 1927 at 2:30 in the afternoon, he proudly inaugurated the region's new open-air museum, which was given the name De gamle Huse - The Old Houses. At the opening, the museum contained seven buildings: Skovridergården (the Forest Manager's House) from Vantore, Kapellanboligen (the Curate's House) from Landet, Stubmøllen (the Post Mill) from the island of Fejø, Maltkøllen (the Malt Kiln) from Vester Ulslev, Ane Huggemands Hus (Ane Huggemand's House) from Halsted, Lokhuset (the Lok House) from Ørbygård farm and Landsbysmedjen (the Village Smithy) from Majbølle.

Despite the extensive work involved in establishing the first seven houses on the old sugar works site, a new addition was welcomed only two years later. In the large barn that was the only remaining part of the former Gammel Skovnæs farm, the museum set up three exhibitions: the Polish collection, historical agricultural implements, and the furniture and fixtures from Hovmand's old grocer's shop in Rødby. During the same period, the museum acquired a rare museum object, which has been exhibited at The Open-Air Museum ever since: the large steam engine plough from the Højbygård estate that dates back to 1872, and which was a part of the early days of the sugar boom in Lolland.

However, even with the fine collection of regional buildings, the museum chairman was still not content. He wanted to add a farm to the collection, which in his view would make the museum almost complete. His dream was realised in 1931, when the courtyard farm from Nørre Ørslev on Falster was inaugurated. Another eight years would pass before the next large building would be added to The Open-Air Museum. In 1939, the long Reventlow School with its thick mud walls arrived. This would also mark the starting signal for the establishment of a village pond, as a huge hole was left in the ground after mud had been dug out for the building.

World War II and the post-war years brought activities at the museum to a standstill. Due to great financial trouble, there was no money for the extensive maintenance of the museum's large building volume.

The stagnation lasted through to the 1960s when new changes could once again take place among The Old Houses. At this time, the museum was given the nearby Skovpavillon (Woodland Pavilion), which had formerly belonged to Danish Sugar. The museum also received various financial grants for much needed restoration of the old buildings. The restoration that followed many years of neglect continued through the entire decade, and a lot of the buildings' interior contents was also checked and went through a thorough conservation process.

The museum thus entered the 1970s reinforced and ready to meet new challenges. This was a magnificent period for the museum, and many activities and events were created. Often, visitors would be met by folk dancers swirling their skirts, or they would be able to watch old tradesman techniques demonstrated by, among others, the blacksmith, the ropemaker and the weavers. During this period of prosperity, it was decided to convert part of the Forest Manager's House to include the old grocer's shop from Rødby, which had previously been exhibited in the long barn from the Gammel Skovnæs farm.

After the heydays of the 1970s, many years would pass before new buildings were added to the museum. In 2003, the museum acquired a small farmworker's house from Godsted, which is today known as Havehuset - the Garden House. This little house often forms the backdrop for some of the museum's major events, as it is often used as a café, or homemade pancakes are baked here on the old wood-burning cooking range.

In 2009, the museum received a donation from the A. P. Møller Foundation for the restoration of the museum's old post mill from Fejø. During the autumn holidays, the mill was taken down, and through to the spring of 2011, a millwright worked on the old mill. In the spring of 2011, the re-erection of the mill started on the meadow behind the museum. This was not the mill's original position when it was taken down, but the move was a deliberate choice on the part of the museum. In its new position, the mill can now be used to demonstrate how its amazing mechanics work.