About The Author


Charlie Nelson, retired MHS historical architect, died early Saturday morning, January 20, 2007. Charlie was hired as the first historical architect in the State Historic Preservation Office after that program was established in 1969.

In his long tenure he left a lasting impact on the state’s built environment. He was a leader in the historic preservation community and was known and admired in communities large and small throughout the state. In the image below, Charlie (far right) advised volunteers at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria about care and preservation of log buildings. He retired from the Society in 2005.

Charlie was particularly proud of the work he did with county and local historical organizations, and he had many, many friends throughout Minnesota. He had a passion for local history and traveled across Minnesota in every season and in all weather conditions. Charlie urged us all to do our very best, but his advice was always practical and geared to reality.

See obituaries in Pioneer Press and Star Tribune.

Please let us know how Charlie helped your organization.

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18 Responses to Charlie Nelson

  1. Todd Mahon says:

    This is very sad. I can’t say I knew Charlie terribly well but I had the chance to share a long car ride with him once for a SHPO workshop several years ago. He was extremely generous in our conversation and tolerated this fool and his questions gladly. From then on he remembered me and who I was.

    My deepest sympathies to his friends and family.


  2. Brent Peterson says:

    It is with a heavy heart that we at the Washington County Historical Society have learned of the passing of Charlie Nelson. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to his MHS family as well.

    Charlie did wonders in his position at MHS. He had helped the WCHS countless number of times, visiting our sites and giving expert advice to us so that we could properly preserve and protect the historical structures we have in our care and we were able to pass along his advice to scores of people who came to us for the same advice.

    Although he is no longer with us, his deeds will live long into the future giving many people the delights and insights of our great past.

    He will be missed.

    Most sincerely,

    Brent T. Peterson
    Executive Director
    Washington County Historical Society


  3. June Lynne says:

    I am very saddened to hear about the passing of Charlie Nelson. He was a man with a wealth of knowledge that will be greatly missed. He was a true preservation purist and was not willing to be quieted should others not agree with him. He has helped our organization in numerous ways, most notable the Swensson Barn Museum. He kidded me for three years that we needed to finish the project so that he could retire. Throughout this state, is presence will continue to be felt for decades. He was a man that truly made a remarkable difference. I hope that the residents of Minnesota understand how much he did for the preservation of our history. In 100 years his influence will still be felt and seen!


  4. Wendy Biorn says:

    It is with a sad heart I hear of Charlie’s death. I first met Charlie while working for the Rockford Area Historical Society in 2000. He fast became a friend and a person I knew would help answer my many questions. He made an effort to outreach to our small organization, visiting often. I remember once, when I was feeling down about the organization not being big enough to do the thing I wanted to, he quietly told me how lucky I was and there were days he wished he had a job like mine. He would then go on to list all of the positives of a small organization. I will always have fond memories of Charlie and count my blessing to have known someone who so positively affected my professional life.


  5. Richard A. Williams says:

    I have known Charlie since 1980 while I was working with MHS at Historic Fort Snelling. His office was at the fort during that time so I saw him on nearly a daily basis. I have counted him as a close friend who was always willing to give advice and help whenever he was asked. One of the last projects that he worked on was helping Dakota City Heritage Village choose a new historic home to be added to the reconstructed village. Our final selection was soundly based on his professional opinion and advice. I will miss him but his professional and personal accomplishments will long be remembered by his friends, peers and anyone who had the slightest contact with him.


  6. Brenda Johnson says:

    Charlie was a great and fun guy to work with on any project, but ours in the City of Chatfield was our Carnegie Library renovation/restoration and addition. I will miss him. He gave a great gift to our state, himself.


  7. Michael Lamb says:

    When I was an historic preservation newbie, full of enthusiasm but struggling to find help with some vernacular structures, it was Charlie who first lent his time and expertise without reservation. The insight into my buildings and the preservation process that he imparted during his one brief visit to my historic farmstead opened a whole world to me. Pointing out the subtlest of architectural details, he recreated the development of this pioneer homestead before my very eyes and made me feel that efforts to preserve it would be truly worthwhile. I can only imagine how many people he has inspired not only to work on their own preservation projects but to try to live by his example of helping others, no matter how humble their interest or undertaking. Thank you, Charlie. No one can fill your shoes, but you have mentored many who will do their best to help carry on your legacy.


  8. Helen Alten says:

    My condolences to Charlie’s family. Losing him is a great loss for Minnesota, too. He was always generous with his time and advice. He will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with you in this time of grief.
    Helen Alten


  9. Pat Nunnally says:

    Charlie Nelson was truly a public servant. It was my privilege to work with him and learn from him during the 5 years I spent at SHPO and MHS archaeology. No matter how hard the work was, he remembered how to laugh.

    My deepest sympathy to his family and his friends throughout the state.

    Pat Nunnally


  10. John Callan says:

    I will miss Charlie. He provided my first lesson in public history and preservation when I was fresh out of architecture school and he provided comfort and support in firestorms later in my career. He was always a few steps ahead of me, and ever so much more the gentleman than I. I will miss Charlie. Our profession will miss him.


  11. Irene Bender says:

    Preservation has lost a great friend! When the Akerlund Studio, Cokato, was given to the city and historical society, I was the director. I knew nothing of restoration and David Nystuen suggested Charlie Nelson come out. He did–first of all, what a handsome man and gentleman. He suggested a plan and I wrote down everything he said. Thanks to him, for his suggestions, practical advice and encouragement, the studio was restored and still remains an important part of the early photographer’s studio where life in Cokato was recorderd for over a half-century.

    One of his visits was over lunch and I told him we could go to the "hot spot" in town. I took him to the canteen at the corn canning factory (where the temperature was 110) and he ordered Tater Tot hotdish. He certainly was the only person in a suit and bow tie and enjoying every moment of lunch at the "hot spot" in town.

    Thank you, Charlie.
    Irene Bender
    former director of the Cokato Museum


  12. Tony Guscetti says:

    Charlie was a great neighbor these past 20 years. Always encouraging with the home rehab(s)!! and ready to share a tall cold one when I was ready to put a match to the house!

    Halloween won’t be the same! Long live Nelson and "Leo"! His presence in the neighborhood will never be forgotten.


  13. Mona Nelson says:

    Charlie’s enthusiasm: "Hey, Dave, get up here. You have to see this–the biggest birds nest I’ve ever seen!"–in the two-story Svea School, in the cupola at the top of a rickety ladder/stair that hadn’t been used for years.


  14. Sara Hanson says:

    Charlie has touched countless structures and communities across this great state and it was a privilege to know him. He was a fine mix of a preservationist with a vision, a practical man with a plan and always a gentleman with a sense of humor. His mark will be felt for generations to come. Our thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time.

    Sara Hanson
    Executive Director
    White Bear Lake Area Historical Society


  15. Joe Hoover says:

    My condolences, The loss of Charlie Nelson is a loss of a generous and passionate public servant.


  16. Mo Galvin says:

    My condolences to Charlie’s family and friends. He will be missed by so many.

    The positive impact Charlie had upon our built history covers the entire state and more. Amazing. What a legacy for us and future generations to enjoy.

    Years ago, I was very fortunate to start a new job for an organization that that had three historic log cabins in need of repair. Poor Charlie patiently endured the insane amount of restoration and supply resource questions I bombarded him with over the course of the project. Thanks to Charlie, I should now have the cement daubing mixture recipe memorized by heart.

    Charlie’s visits to our museum with Dave Nystuen were always very enjoyable. Together, their comments and advice were always interesting to hear. If anyghing, you were guaranteed to laugh.

    Thanks Charlie!!


  17. James Lundgren says:

    Like so many others, I have fond memories of Charlie making himself very available to help out county historical societies with restoration projects. I had the pleasure of working with him on numerous occassions in Rice and Blue Earth Counties. I learned a great deal from him. Charlie was a valuable resource that will be greatly missed. His legacy will live on for many years through all the restoration projects that benefitted from his knowledge and experience.


  18. Glenn D Kiecker says:

    I am in 2013 coming to know a bit about the rich legacy of Brother Charlie Nelson which shall inspire many generations which are not as yet even a glimmer in a parenta eye…of this i am certain.

    Fraternally and Eternally Appreciative,

    Glernn D Kiecker
    lifemember Cataract Lodge #2, 32*, RAM

    Hereto is a a tribute being built so as to cherish and preseve thas man’s awesone Gift to Posterity..


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