Historic Financial Help for Local History

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Historic Financial Help for Local History

By: grabitsdm | May 10, 2011
The Land, Clean Water and Legacy Amendment (2009-2034) has certain parallels to the broad access and initiatives of the

  • Public Archives Commission (1899-1917),

  • War Records Commission (1918-1925),

  • New Deal Programs (1935-1943),

  • Minnesota Territorial and Statehood Centennials (1947-1950 and 1954-1959),

  • American Revolution Bicentennial Commission (1965-1977), and the

  • Minnesota Territorial and Statehood Sesquicentennials (1997-2000 and 2005-2009)

which all provided timely infusions of money and urgency for local historical organizations.

This essay does not look at ongoing governmental sources of support such as operations, the State Grants-in-Aid program (1969-present), grants programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and many others. The programs below are all of limited duration.

Public Archives Commission

Congress established the Public Archives Commission in 1899 to organize county government records. The National Archives was not created until 1934. Although the federal government kept its records, utilizing the records was difficult at best. The money was awarded to a statewide entity for project use on the local level, and in the case of Minnesota those funds flowed through the Minnesota Historical Society and facilitated the creation of additional historical organizations. In Minnesota, this program was utilized 1914-1917.

War Records Commission

The Public Archives Commission ended in 1917 as Congress sought to balance its budget and pay for the Great War. Thus the War Records Commission Act of 1919 was passed to continue and broaden the work of the Public Archives Commission, requiring a war records commission for every county to organize records related to veterans of the Spanish-American, Philippine, and Great wars. Again, the money was project based and flowed through the Minnesota Historical Society. Still more historical organizations started to preserve their local history and make it accessible.

New Deal Programs

There were a good number of New Deal Programs during the Great Depression designed to put people back to work. More than just laborers, these programs also employed writers and historians, such as the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers Project that included useful suggestions for what would now be called heritage tourism. Again, the money was project based and flowed through the Minnesota Historical Society to strengthen and improve local efforts to preserve history and make it accessible with even more additional organizations. 

Centennial Celebrations

The Minnesota Legislature provided $150,000 to commemorate the Minnesota Territorial Centennial for 1948 and 1949 (approximately equal to $1.4 million in 2011). The statehood centennial was even larger. The projects resulting from these celebrations created durable results, such as historic markers and strong local historical organizations that can still be found today. There was intense work to make sure a county history entity existed in time for each of these observances.

American Revolution Bicentennial Commission

The Minnesota American Revolution Bicentennial Commission distributed just over $900,000 (approximately equal to $3.8 million in 2011) in 1975-1976 for the national bicentennial observance. From the final report, at least 14 percent of all grantees were local historical organizations, and at least 14 percent of the grant dollars went to local history organizations for projects. Potentially many of the temporary community bicentennial organizations may have been led by the local historical organization, thus the percentage might rise after a more detail look at the records than the final report provides. While a few more county historical societies began, at this time a greater number of special topic history museums started, reflecting the broadening of historical inquiry.

Sesquicentennial Celebrations

The Minnesota Legislature provided $75,000 (approximately equal to $103,000 in 2011) to the Minnesota Historical Society for a special grants program, while ten years later the Minnesota Statehood Sesquicentennial Commission had $585,000 (approximately equal to $607,000 in 2011) for grants.

Both programs were for projects. While the amounts available were much lower than previous external funding programs, funds were timely and essential to preserving history and making it accessible. Beginning with these two initiatives, organizations were less likely to start because of the anniversaries, but more so as a natural evolution of their communities.


The Land, Clean Water and Legacy Amendment was approved by Minnesota voters on November 4, 2008. The amendment is in effect now through 2034. In the first biennium 2009-2011, grants for history projects came to $6.75 million, and indications are that this amount could grow over the remaining 23 years.

The important difference between this amendment and all others is both duration and money. The others averaged about 6.5 years each, and the longest at 19 years. The Legacy Amendment will last 25 years. In terms of dollars and impact, it may be too early to tell. However, it seems likely that the Legacy Amendment could dwarf all previous project sources in terms of total dollars adjusted for inflation.

Out of the 121 years (1914-2034) possible, only 44 years are not covered by one of these programs. Given the strength of local history in Minnesota in terms of quality and capacity, boards, volunteers and staff seemingly have made intentional use of these programs so far. It would be important to understand the role of external programs like these on the strength of local history organizations by looking at other states. How many have external funding sources? How many of their historical organizations benefited from national sources? Will historical organizations begin in order to take advantage of this program, or will the program more serve to solidify and strengthen those already in place?

Path to the Future

The previous project-based funding sources certainly provide a sense of the general direction over time. All are project oriented, rather than funding general operation. Local historical organizations in Minnesota have used that to their advantage in each case to build their capacity and earn national recognition. All provided necessary, timely, and critical infusions of money to accomplish long standing projects, many of which appear to have stood the test of time and are still enjoyed today. The Legacy Amendment appears to be following in the footsteps of other programs, and that promises to further grow the strength and capacity of historical organizations across the state.

 Summary of Programs:

Program State/Federal Duration
Public Archives Commission Federal 1899-1917
War Records Commission State 1918-1925
New Deal Programs Federal 1935-1943
Minnesota Territorial Centennial State 1947-1950
Minnesota Statehood Centennial State 1954-1959
American Revolution Bicentennial Commission Federal and State 1965-1977
Minnesota Territorial & Millennium Grants State 1997-1999
Minnesota Statehood Sesquicentennial Commission State 2005-2009
Legacy  State 2009-2034