Minnesota Local History

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Advice and help with building history capacity.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

Historic buildings: Identifying and Reading Architecture

By: Tamsin Himes | Local History | Preservation & Facilities | June 28, 2021

Image by Tamsin Himes

As a design reviewer at the Minnesota Historical Society, I am lucky that as part of my job I get to see a lot of interesting and varied architecture from around the state. I have enjoyed a front-row seat to some fantastic preservation projects. Helping people who are passionate about their built history and seeing those preservation projects progress and succeed is exciting and fulfilling. 

Another part of my job is being able to identify architectural features and read buildings. For me, this isn't merely a part of my job that I enjoy -- I feel it should be important to anyone interested in the history of their community or in built history in general. I’m passionate about preservation and I believe that the more we understand about architecture, the more we will realize its importance and will be invested in preserving it.

Why does this matter? 

You might ask "But wait, can this actually help me? Why should I invest time in learning about random architecture creatures?" There are actually a ton of benefits to being able to "read" architecture. Here are three (of the many) ways knowing how to identify architecture and recognize features can help you. 

1) It can help identify a general window date of construction.

2) It can help you identify construction methods and techniques 

3) It can help you understand the significance of the building 

Note: this blog post is focusing on exterior elements and features -- there is a mountain of information about the layout, plan, interior design and features of a building that also help to identify it. But that would be another blog post altogether.

Identify date of construction. Often there are papers, drawings, photographs or other documentation that can pinpoint the date of construction of a particular building. But sometimes there is no tangible documentation and so we have to rely on observation of the building to give us clues. (Side note: If you’re planning on doing some major preservation work to your building, then we highly recommend consulting with a historic architect who has the expertise to analyze your building completely). But for an informal study of a building, if you have the ability to see key identifying features, then you can more often than not, place a building in a window of time when that architecture style was most prominent. For example, Second Empire (1855–1885), Craftsman (1905–1930), Queen Anne (1880-1910).

Construction methods and techniques. If you have an idea of the time period in which a building was built, then you have valuable insight into the construction of the building as a whole and techniques or materials that were likely used. Examples of this could be lath and plaster, roofing materials/techniques (such as slate, wood shakes or shingles, etc), different types of stone or brick patterns that indicate specific masonry techniques, mortar type, or asbestos-containing materials. All of this is valuable knowledge to those who are involved with historic architecture. 

Understanding Significance. An important part of working with built history is understanding how the building interacts with and contributes to its surroundings. Does it contribute to an important time in the community? Does it represent some iconic art form? Does it provide physical evidence of a change or progression in the historic economy? These are all aspects of architecture that you can understand better if you know how to read the architectural elements of a building.

So, how does one get started in learning how to read historic buildings?

An easy place to start is to choose an architectural style that you like and learn some basics about it. You can start with a Google search or a reference book. Here are some great resources that may be helpful: 

Books: “A Field Guide to American Houses” Virginia Savage McAlester. “How to Date Buildings” Trevor Yorke. “American House Styles” John Milnes Baker. Digital resources: Architectural Styles of America and Europe (architecturestyles.org), Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary (a mobile app), and don't forget Google! 

Let's take Gothic Revival for instance. After a quick read/search I can find a few key features of this architecture style: cross gable, steeply pitched roof, one-story flat-roofed porch, tall vertical windows, the classic gothic arch, and decorative barge-board detailing. There are many others, but these are a few of the most prominent.

Once I know these few features I can practice identifying them on buildings, like this:

Note: reading/identifying buildings and their features is far from cut and dry. Often there are elements of several styles in one building. But if you know the basics, then you can learn to pick apart buildings and read their stories. 

By far the best way to start is simply to notice the architecture around you. Go on a walk, drive or run and look at the architecture that is in your neighborhood or town. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to identify some buildings and many of their features. It's the best way to practice SEEING architecture because so often the architecture closest to us that we see every day is the same that we do not really see. Or at least do not notice. Also, look at your own house -- even if it's modern, you’ll probably be able to see elements taken from older styles and nods to major architectural movements.  

You may have heard writers say they don’t know what they think until they write about it -- or artists say they don’t know what they’ve seen until they paint it. That is how I feel about architecture and having the words to describe and name features and building types, So often we don’t know what we're seeing or experiencing until we can identify and name it.

-------------------------------------

Questions about this blog or requests for future blog posts? Contact us at localhistory@mnhs.org

Modifying Historic Properties for Increased Accessibility - Panel Conversation

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | June 11, 2021

Webinar Recording from June 3, 2021

Moderators: Julia Larson and Todd Mahon. Panelists: David Fenley, Minnesota Council on Disability; Ray Bloomer, National Park Service's National Accessibility Support Program; and Bill Wright and Bess McCollough with Collaborative Design Group, Inc.

 

A conversation among accessibility and design professionals about the intersections between accessibility and historic preservation.

David has been with the Minnesota Council on Disability since 2014. He transitioned from legislative work to ADA education and outreach throughout Minnesota. David, a certified access specialist, informs entities across the state about Disability awareness, ADA obligations, Minnesota’s Accessibility Code, digital accessibility.

Ray works with the National Park Service’s National Accessibility Support Program. He has significant experience in training and consulting on accessibility in historic sites, both in physical and programmatic accessibility.

Bill is an award-winning designer, and a leader of CDG's Preservation and Adaptive Reuse practices.

Bess is a Senior Designer and Project Manager at CDG, specializing in Preservation, Adaptive Reuse and Universal Design practices.

This session was one of four from a half-day workshop focused on accessibility in historic buildings. 

  1. Disability and The ADA: Cultural, Demographic, Legal and Technical Implications
  2. Accessibility to Historic Sites; the Decision Process
  3. Strategies for Accessibility Improvements to Historic Properties
  4. Modifying Historic Properties for Increased Accessibility - Panel Conversation

Strategies for Accessibility Improvements to Historic Properties

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | June 11, 2021

Webinar Recording from June 3, 2021

Bill Hickey, Principal and Bess McCollough, Architect with Collaborative Design Group

Description: This session will consider strategies for increasing physical access to historic structures. Universal Design concepts will be reviewed, with methods and construction approaches illustrated through review of case studies.

Bill is an award-winning designer, and a leader of CDG's Preservation and Adaptive Reuse practices. Bess is a Senior Designer and Project Manager at CDG, specializing in Preservation, Adaptive Reuse and Universal Design practices.

This session was one of four from a half-day workshop focused on accessibility in historic buildings. 

  1. Disability and The ADA: Cultural, Demographic, Legal and Technical Implications
  2. Accessibility to Historic Sites; the Decision Process
  3. Strategies for Accessibility Improvements to Historic Properties
  4. Modifying Historic Properties for Increased Accessibility - Panel Conversation

Accessibility to Historic Sites; the Decision Process

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | June 11, 2021

Webinar Recording from June 3, 2021

Ray Bloomer, Accessibility Specialist

Description: The process of deciding how to make historic structures and sites accessible to people with disabilities, must consider multiple factors. This session will discuss types of structures, types of changes to be considered, limitations and uses of the structures, along with what to do if all areas of historic structures cannot be made accessible. This session is intended to provide participants with guidance in order to successfully strike a balance between accessibility and preservation.

Ray Bloomer works with the National Park Service’s National Accessibility Support Program. He has significant experience in training and consulting on accessibility in historic sites, both in physical and programmatic accessibility.

This session was one of four from a half-day workshop focused on accessibility in historic buildings. 

  1. Disability and The ADA: Cultural, Demographic, Legal and Technical Implications
  2. Accessibility to Historic Sites; the Decision Process
  3. Strategies for Accessibility Improvements to Historic Properties
  4. Modifying Historic Properties for Increased Accessibility - Panel Conversation

 

Disability and The ADA: Cultural, Demographic, Legal and Technical Implications

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | June 11, 2021

Webinar Recording from June 3, 2021

David Fenley, ADA Director, Minnesota Council on Disability

Description: This session will discuss how disability and the ADA affects society and people’s lives. It will provide a demographic and cultural analysis of disability while setting the stage for the technical application of the ADA.

David has been with the Minnesota Council on Disability since 2014. He transitioned from legislative work to ADA education and outreach throughout Minnesota. David, a certified access specialist, informs entities across the state about Disability awareness, ADA obligations, Minnesota’s Accessibility Code, digital accessibility.

This session was one of four from a half-day workshop focused on accessibility in historic buildings. 

  1. Disability and The ADA: Cultural, Demographic, Legal and Technical Implications
  2. Accessibility to Historic Sites; the Decision Process
  3. Strategies for Accessibility Improvements to Historic Properties
  4. Modifying Historic Properties for Increased Accessibility - Panel Conversation

New Executive Order Changes Face-Covering Requirements

By: Todd Mahon | Mission & Management | May 18, 2021

Image showing on the left an illustration of the face of a person wearing a mask. On the right is an illustration of a person flexing an arm with a bandaid on the inset of the state of Minnesota. In the middle is a question mark.

Things are changing fast. Last week, we published a blog post on the state’s three-step process to wind down many of the public health measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a matter of hours, the state announced major changes regarding the uses of face-coverings that made some of that information out-of-date. 

The big change happened with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announcement. They adjusted their recommendations to advise that fully-vaccinated people do not need to wear face-coverings in many situations. 

So what are the changes and how do they affect historic sites and museums? The three-step process is largely intact with the obvious exception of what it had said about the mask mandate expiring when the vaccination rate reached 70% or on July 1, regardless of the vaccination rate.

According to Executive Order 21-23, face-covering requirements in most situations have been lifted. People who are not vaccinated are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face-covering until they are fully vaccinated. 

It’s important to know that the executive order does not prevent political subdivisions (like cities and counties) from placing restrictions within their jurisdictions that are more strict than the executive order. It also states that nothing prevents “businesses and other private entities… from implementing otherwise lawful policies or rules related to the conduct of their employees… or customers— including lawful face-covering requirements.”

In other words, be aware of what your local orders are and a museum can require face-coverings with its own policies. 

 

Important Changes in Minnesota COVID Guidelines Affect Museums

By: Todd Mahon | Mission & Management | May 13, 2021
Stock photo of colored pegs distanced.

EDIT: Shortly after this post was publsihed the State of Minnesota issued updated guidelines and a new Executive Order. Check out the new blog post with updated information here

It’s been quite an experience for Minnesota’s local history community as executive orders have placed significant restrictions on businesses and nonprofits in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first week of May, Governor Tim Walz announced more dialing back of the restrictions with a path towards the end of many requirements. 

Stay Safe MN announced a three-step plan to wind down the restrictions for indoor events and entertainment, which is how museums are classified in the state’s recommendations. 

Step One (Began on May 7)

  • Museums are required to have a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.
  • Venues may open at 50% capacity, but must limit space between individual parties to six feet or more. 
  • Limits on outdoor activities with less than 500 people are lifted. 
  • Screening of employees is still required.

Step Two (Beginning May 28)

  • State requirements for physical distancing expire.
  • Face coverings are still required indoors and outdoors events larger than 500 people.
  • Screening of employees is still required.

Step Three (Beginning July 1 or when the statewide vaccination rate reaches 70%)

  • The indoor face covering mandate expires.
  • No additional information or clarification at this time if a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan will be required.
  • Cities, counties, school districts, and businesses may impose additional requirements. This may be expected to happen as the pandemic is not over with. 

Additional Resources:

  1. Overview of Stay Safe MN
  2. COVID-19 Universal Guidance for All Businesses and Entities
  3. Stay Safe MN’s Guidance Overview by Setting (including Indoor Events and Entertainment) 

Radioactive Collections

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | April 12, 2021

I recently had an interesting question sent to my inbox about the safety of uranium-containing glass in a museum collection.

“So, I read The Radium Girls and had watched that webinar on hazards in museum collections. Yep, I put two and two together and bought a black light flashlight. Snapped these pictures and wondered, is it safe to keep them on display or any precautions?”

 

Black light photograph showing glassware in a museum case glowing bright green.

Uranium glass fluoresces bright green under ultraviolet light. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Marshall, Lake of the Woods Historical Society.

Here was my response:

Great question, and love the black light photos! (As an extra safety precaution on top of everything else, I recommend wearing UV-protecting eyewear when using a blacklight – polycarbonate safety glasses are one good option). These objects are really cool and I bet people would love to learn more about them.

The only real way to know how much precaution to take with any radioactive artifact is to measure the radiation coming off it using a Geiger counter. You might be able to partner with local health & safety officials to test the radioactivity of the glass. I don’t know if you’ve used a Geiger counter before, but it’s totally non-invasive, non-destructive testing. 

Radiation is considered in “doses”, as in – how much radiation per year can I safely be exposed to? You can take one 'big' dose of radiation once per year and be safe, or you can get small exposures to radiation more frequently, and be at the same risk level. The risk is much less for a visitor who comes in occasionally and doesn’t spend all that much time near the radioactive glass compared to a collections worker who is working directly with these objects every day.

One way to mitigate risk is to limit the amount of time you spend with a radioactive object. Other ways to mitigate risk are to increase distance and barriers between you and the objects – good practice would be to always handle this glassware while wearing nitrile gloves; and to display it behind glass in a display case rather than on open display.

The good news is that the amount of uranium in glassware (or Fiestaware) is quite low – often as low as 0.5% of the weight of the object. They don’t emit much radiation. So it’s safe to have these kinds of objects in museum collections, although I recommend taking precautions like those I mentioned above. 

 

For those who want to do more research, these are all great resources: 

Managing Small Radioactive Collections in the UK: Experiences from the Polar Museum, Cambridge

Uranium Glass in Museum Collections

Uranium in a Cupboard Near You!

Seeing More: glow-in-the-dark glass

EPA: Radioactivity in Antiques

Radium Girls: The dark times of luminous watches

MN Department of Health: Radiation Control

 

National Register help: Property Evaluation Grant

By: Tamsin Himes | Funding | Preservation & Facilities | April 12, 2021

Image by Tamsin Himes

National Register help: Property Evaluation Grant

Listing in the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) is a prestigious designation that can have many benefits, including opening doors to funding opportunities for historic building preservation. The nomination is an involved process. We at the Minnesota Historical Society can help with pointers and funding to complete the documentation, but the process itself is carried out by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Parks Service (NPS). Before anything else, be sure to contact SHPO to fully understand the listing process.

Contact SHPO So, your organization has in its ownership a beautiful property that you believe has local/state/national significance and you want to find out how to apply to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Your first point of contact should be the State Historic Preservation Office. SHPO will give you all the information you need about the nomination process and how to get started. 

Eligibility: property evaluation SHPO will likely tell you, among other things, that a property evaluation should be completed to determine if the property is eligible for listing. This is where the Legacy Grant program comes in. There is a Structured Grant available specifically for property evaluation, which results in an official SHPO opinion on the eligibility of the property:  “This structured application provides funding to conduct an evaluation of a property for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Properties listed in the National Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.” (Grants Manual, p. 91) 

Grant Application Applicants can apply for this Structured Grant via the same platform as all other Legacy Grants. In order to be eligible for this grant your organization must fall under one of four categories: 1) nonprofit 501c3 organizations 2) units of state or local government 3) federally recognized tribal organizations, and 4) educational institutions. If your organization falls under one of these, then your next step is to visit this page for information about requesting an account on our grants portal. After being approved for an account, you will have access to the required paperwork and forms to begin the application process. 

When can I apply? The Property Evaluation Structured Grant is a small grant ($10,000 and under), so there are four opportunities a year to apply. Visit this page for deadline information. 

Who do I contact with questions? If you have questions about the National Register listing process, contact the SHPO here. If you have questions relating to grants and how MNHS can help you, contact the Grants Office at grants@mnhs.org or me at, tamsin.himes@mnhs.org

Create a username for your organization's Facebook Page

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | April 7, 2021
Change your Facebook name

Why should I create a username for my Facebook Page?

Your username (aka page URL) is the link or address for your Facebook page. It is what shows up beneath your page name and in the address bar of your internet browser. It is to help people find and remember your Page. Ideally it should be a name that clearly says who your organization is.

Reasons for choosing a @username.

  1. A well-formed @username allows people to search and find you and your organization easily without a lot of hunting around.
  2. Having a @username makes it really easy for people to tag you in their posts and link to your Facebook page. 
  3. Lastly having a good @username will help your organization rank better in searches.

Don’t ignore this step. Having an appropriate @username for your page can make the difference between people finding your organization or not.
You want people to easily be able to search for your organization and using an obvious, straightforward name is one of the best ways to do that.

What to avoid naming your page:

  • @acme1858History - A name like that looks more like a weak password since no one will know it or remember it.
  • @HistoryIsFun - While history may be fun no one will associate the name with your organization unless your organization's name actually is "History Is Fun"
  • @AcmeCoHisSo - You get nothing out of abbreviating this way. No Search engine can find it and no one will ever remember it. You would be better off writing out the full name of your organization.
  • @AcmeCountyHistoricalSocietyMN - This actually is a good name to avoid confusion if your organization's name is very common like "Washington" or "Jefferson", "Franklin" or "Jackson" the four most popular county names. But if your organization's name is "Kandiyohi County Historical Society" it is a very safe bet you don't need to add the suffix "MN" to your name.

How do I create a username for my Facebook Page?

1. Click Create Page @Username below your Page's name.

2. Enter a username, then click outside of the composer.
FYI: Creating upper and lower case letters in your name (also called camel case) will help visually with your name.
However, for Facebook accounts, upper or lower case in the URL does not matter. Someone typing in "AcmeCountyHistory" or "acmecountyhistory" both are recognized.

3. If the username is available, click Create Username and you're done!

Pages