The Écomusée d'Alsace is a charity, with some 300 volunteers working for it.
Back in 1971, the traditional Alsatian architectural heritage was coming under increasing threat and a group made up mainly of young history and archaeology students, led by Marc Grodwohl, decided to launch a project to save and preserve typical buildings of the region. The group started work in Gommersdorf, a small village in the Sundgau, in southern Alsace, restoring abandoned houses and others threatened with demolition. The Maisons Paysannes d’Alsace Association was founded some 2 years later, in 1973.
Many buildings could not be preserved where they stood, and the Association came up with the ambitious idea of dismantling and subsequently reconstructing them exactly as they were, in an eco-museum along the lines of the one created by Georges-Henri Rivière and Hugues de Varine. After much fruitless searching, the project eventually took root on a piece of wasteland between Mulhouse and Colmar, offered by the village of Ungersheim.
The Koetzingue house was the first to be rebuilt on the newly acquired land, a task which was effectively a challenge set by Henri Goetschy, the then president of the Departement Council of the Haut Rhin, to test the determination and skills of the volunteers of the Maisons Paysannes d’Alsace. The successful outcome led to a long-term partnership between the Haut Rhin Department and the charity and thus began the Écomusée d'Alsace!
19 additional buildings were reconstructed on the Ungersheim site, representing the main architectural styles of rural Alsace. Each of these houses mirrors a specific part of life in Alsace over a given timescale
The Écomusée d’Alsace opened its doors to the public on 1 June 1984 and shortly afterwards was inaugurated by Jack Lang, the then French Minister of Culture. At the time, the museum featured some 20 buildings, some of which were still in the finishing stages. The new museum proved to be an instant hit, with 75,000 visitors the first 12 months. This allowed the project to continue and also to bring in thousands of household articles donated by local inhabitants, including furniture, clothes, documents, photographs and many other items, to decorate the interior of the houses
The Tour Forte (Fortified Tower) was reconstructed in the museum using fragments dating back to the late 15th century, taken from the mediaeval ramparts of the city of Mulhouse. Restoration was completed in 1987 and the tower stands over the village, offering an outstanding vista of the whole of the Écomusée d’Alsace and its surroundings.
The Écomusée d’Alsace sawmill, with its impressive bucket wheel, reflects the importance of the wood industry for the region. The building and its machinery come from Moosch in the Thann valley, while some mechanical elements are from the Gebel sawmill in the Masevaux Valley.
The potter’s house was originally located in Soufflenheim, a pottery village in the Bas-Rhin and dates back to the 18th century. The house replicates the precise conditions in which its owner worked.
Celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Écomusée d’Alsace saw a package of 30 challenges set with the museum’s employees and volunteers. In one challenge, the frame of a half-timbered house from had to be put up in 30 hours, while in another, 30 bearded men were shaved in record time by the museum’s barbers, while a third one had 30 photos of Alsatian families taken in poses and clothing of the time. The challenges were a highly original and marvellously fun way of celebrating the history of the museum!
With the support of the ACEF, the Écomusée d'Alsace welcomes a brand-new addition to the museum – the Games Forest! Designed for kids and for families, the new area sets out to help visitors explore biodiversity and the preservation of the environment.
In partnership with the Brasseries de l’Ill, the museum has set up a craft microbrewery, which produces the Écomusée d'Alsace’s own eponymous beer.