About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In the Overlooking Local Museums discussion last month, the tenor was about failing to visit locally when other sites further away seem more exciting. Many people probably desire to visit Washington DC. Why not? After all it is the nation’s capital and decisions made there affect so much of what happens in the world. As long as one is there soaking in firsthand its rich significance, there are plenty of museums that are part of the local flavor. Those museums have integrated themselves by supporting the ambiance of the place. The museums are as distinctive as their host city.

It seems to me that several local history organizations in Minnesota also actively seek that same kind of integration in their communities as distinctive enhancements. Although there are more to name, let me highlight just two. Anoka County Historical Society in the metro area has a strong track record of work with both the City of Anoka and around the county. ACHS assisted the City of Anoka with the creation of historic markers along a popular walking trail beside the Rum River. While people may not necessarily go for the history, the several times that I have randomly visited it there have always been people looking at the markers. In this way ACHS blends in with its host community to amplify a positive experience for residents and tourists alike by portraying the city for what it is: a place important to people.

Morrison County Historical Society in Little Falls a number of years ago likewise had the opportunity to work with its host city, but this time on a curriculum. Through what is taught in school, hopefully young residents will discover compelling reasons to stay in the community when they grow up. Many communities, even states as a whole, grapple with how to keep its young people.

There are many other strategies for integrating history, a history ethic, and clues to the support role that historical organizations have in enhancing the attractiveness of a community profile. How do you or your organization show that grass is just as green and lush locally? I don’t mean what do you tell people, but what specific projects have you accomplished that are now part of the community’s identity?

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3 Responses to Locally Lush

  1. Mary Warner says:

    Ooo, ooo, David! Pick me! Am I allowed to answer this now that you’ve pointed out one of our projects?

    Along with the curriculum, we still have our Historic Courthouse and the Cass Gilbert Depot, our downtown is a local historic district, the Hennepin Paper Mill site contains pieces of the old building and equipment, our parking lots have historic names, and we have several kiosks of history around town. We have our Executive Director Jan Warner, and President Art Warner to thank for most of this. The Historic Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places due to Jan’s application for the site. She convinced people that it should not be demolished.

    MCHS has worked with other community members to save the Cass Gilbert Depot, which is now the office of the Chamber of Commerce. We have worked with the Heritage Preservation Commission and business owners on building preservation projects, if only to find them photographs of what their buildings used to look like for comparison.

    The Hennepin Paper Mill site was due to become green space, without there being any evidence of the important industry that used to be on the site. One critical phone call made by Jan shifted the focus of the site and helped it become a place where people can see some of the “artifacts” of the industry in an outdoor setting.

    As for the historic parking lot names, Jan came up with the first one – the James & Pamelia Fergus Carriage Lot. Once that was named & a sign erected to give a little of the history of James & Pamelia, the City of Little Falls continued the trend of naming parking lots, often calling MCHS for suggestions and sign text.

    Another integration of history into our community occurred in 2006, during Morrison County’s 150th anniversary, when the county had a bust of Nathan Richardson installed on the courthouse lawn. Richardson held more political offices in the county than any other person, and was one of the founders of the county. MCHS provided photos of Uncle Nate for the sculptor and wrote the text for the base of the bust.

    While this may sound impressive, I know there are lots of other historical organizations that have done similar things in their communities, because when I visit other places, I see evidence of the history. (Northfield, Stillwater, Red Wing, Duluth, etc. etc.)

    Is it easier to see the accomplishments of other communities than it is to see our own? Or are we just being humble Minnesotans?


  2. Mary Warner says:

    Here’s another important example of history within a community. The City of Northfield has a Comprehensive Economic Development plan that has local history (& the arts) woven throughout it. History is not a nice little side note in this comp plan, but an integral part of it. Here’s the link: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/business/comprehensiveeconomicdevelopmentplan

    I couldn’t seem to download the pdf of the plan, but was able to access it before.


  3. Robert Overby says:

    For the last 10 years, the Maplewood Area Historical Society (MAHS) has been working with its Legislators, local elected officials, appointed commissioners, and staff from the City of Maplewood, to preserve and promote Maplewood history.
    In 1999, MAHS worked with its legislators, city officials and staff to successfully lobby for funding to save and relocate an historic 1912 farmhouse, 1904 barn, and other buildings to a portion of city-owned park and open space.

    In 2000, MAHS members who were serving on the City’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) prepared a chapter for the City’s comprehensive plan that dealt with Historic Preservation, including goals and policies. Our members presented the plan chapter to the planning commission and city council, which approved it.

    Starting in 2000, MAHS members on the HPC worked with a list of 100-year houses, historical businesses, and other sites in the city, to create an interpretive inventory that is organized by each of the city’s 13 neighborhoods. One objective of the project was to educate both long-time and newly arrived residents about local history “in their back yard”.

    In 2007, MAHS members worked with City staff and the Legislature to successfully lobby for bonding funds to partially pay for the cost of installing a sprinkler system and restrooms in the Society’s barn. These facilities were needed to enable the Society to hold events that would attract large numbers of visitors to our historical farm (at 2170 E. County Road D). MAHS members worked with City staff and with MHS staff to complete the necessary specifications and other paperwork for the project.

    The work on this project is now almost complete, and the Society is using its annual Ice Cream Social event (on Wednesday, June 10th) to recognize all of the people who have supported us over the years. We have invited current and former State Legislators, and City of Maplewood elected officials and staff to this event.

    The moral of this story is that small museums and local historical societies can succeed in their efforts, if they actively and continuously partner with people and organizations that understand and support their mission!

    Robert Overby
    MAHS President


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