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.

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Grand Army of the Republic Hall, Lichfield

By: Joe Hoover | June 28, 2011
The building was built in 1885 for the U.S. Civil War Veterans of the Frank Daggett GAR Post No. 35 in Litchfield and has been preserved in its original condition as nearly as possible. Grand Army of the Republic Halls were once as ubiquitous as VFWs or American Legions and now very few intact halls are left in the nation. Jim Milan, Director of the Meeker County Historical Society gives a tour of the hall. Filmed with an iPhone 4, the sound was recorded directly through the camera's internal microphone.

Higher History Wages on the Horizon?

By: grabitsdm | June 21, 2011
With a massive state deficit, looming government shutdown and layoffs for thousands of Minnesota state workers, now seems an unlikely time to talk about salary.

As is often said, those who work in local history have as part of their compensation an enormous amount of job satisfaction. Others respond that job satisfaction hardly feeds a family. The last salary survey (2006) conducted by the Minnesota Historical Society showed the average leadership salary at about $29,390 per year. There's no question that those who work in local history are undercompensated for the amount of training, experience and skill brought to these critical jobs.

However, local historical organizations are not exactly flush with dollars, or they likely would compensate better and offer more universally things like retirement, health, and dental coverage. How often isn't a director both female and married to someone with family benefits? With a lack of resources, some organizations rely on situations like this even though such organizations express a desire to compensate for work performance. Work, rather than other circumstances, should dictate compensation. Pay the worker what her work merits.

Economist Richard Florida wrote about How the Crash will Reshape America. (Atlantic Monthly, March 2009) In this essay Florida notes that it took a number of manufacturing job incomes to make a household cash flow prior to World War II. As laws improved so did compensation. He believes that the service industry - local history jobs included - is roughly in the same situation that manufacturing was some 65 years ago, and that the federal government may be wise to focus on improving conditions for service industry compensation. He terms this "The Great Reset."

The reset cuts two ways for local history. For the workers, improved compensation will make it far more possible to earn a living. For communities improved compensation means both retention of skilled workers and more money in the local economy. However, for local historical organizations this encouragement means a 'heads-up' that more financial resources may be needed in the future if the federal government pursues this suggestion.

As with many reforms, if this were to be adopted, it might not occur for a number of years. Indeed, the essay itself is a few years old, but was re-aired on Minnesota Public Radio two weeks ago from a July 2010 broadcast. Perhaps the delay in implementation will be sufficient to start the hard work of enhancing revenue streams through more robust membership rosters, wider opportunities to donate, expanded earned income, and more productive endowments.

Esko Historical Museum Tour

By: Joe Hoover | June 8, 2011
The Esko Historical Museum is maintained by the Esko Historical Society which had its start as the Finnish American Memorial Foundation in 1952.

The museum complex includes a cluster of historic buildings moved to the site over the years.

The site includes a 1897 School House, a Grist Mill, a Log Farm House, a grain-drying shed and a smoke sauna.

Video tour was made during a site visit on April 21, 2011.

Digital Imaging Guidelines for Small Organizations - Part 1

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | May 23, 2011
DIY Book Scanner- original on Flicker, by Hardware Hank

DIY Book Scanner- original on Flicker, by Hardware Hank

The creation of digital assets in order to preserve and create access to collections is confusing enough for large libraries, museums and organizations. This audio podcast - (covers of the first half of the document) and PDF document is based on the Western States Digital Imaging Best Practices (PDF) but  has been simplified and edited down and is aimed at the smaller museum/organization in their quest to digitize their own collections. Interested in feedback and suggestions for version 2.0 of the guidelines. Please leave your comments!

Download PDF of the Guidelines

Yellow Medicine County Historical Society

By: Joe Hoover | May 20, 2011

This video of the was made of the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society during the recent trip to Grant Falls to present the session, Care and Preservation of Textiles at the Area Museums Meeting. The video was shot with an iPhone using a shot gun mic (directional mic). More to be posted on the creation of the video later in the Forum.

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

Care and Preservation of Textiles - Audio

By: Joe Hoover | May 4, 2011
A general overview of how to care for, store, and exhibit textiles in your collections. Presented by Melinda Hutchinson at the Area Museums Meeting, Granite Falls.

PowerPoint slides (PDF)

Care and Preservation of Textiles - Enhanced Audio

By: Joe Hoover | Collection Management | May 4, 2011

A general overview of how to care for, store, and exhibit textiles in your collections.  Presented by Melinda Hutchinson at the Area Museums Meeting, Granite Falls.

PowerPoint slides (PDF)

Collections Potpourri - audio

By: Joe Hoover | Collection Management | April 26, 2011

Cataloging, abandoned property, permanent vs. education collections, and use of policy and planning for grants presented by Melinda Hutchinson at the Northland History Coalition meeting.

Presentation Slides

Balancing Space and Placelessness

By: grabitsdm | April 18, 2011
In Relevant Warehousesthe blog looked at the experience of libraries having to address the concern of virtual collections, instant downloads, and worry over relevance of place-based warehouses. Comments addressed the digital divide between tech-haves and tech-have-nots, as well as reminders that tangible evidence is important. Things have to reside somewhere, and sometimes people want to go where the stuff is.

Adding to the story of increasing placelessness, Richfield MN-based Best Buy announced on Thursday April 14, 2011 that it would be shrinking its overall footprint by closing some stores, subletting and reconfiguring space in others, concentrating more on web sales, and placing smaller-more-nimble stores in malls. Critics of Best Buy over the few years have thought that the company's drive to continue building big box stores indicated it was out of touch with the modern, mobile-connected society.

Thus with libraries struggling to stay connected to a public that expects to interface with collections from just about anywhere and not necessarily in a library, and with big box retailers like Best Buy shrinking its footprint in order to align its product with intended users, it seems as though both could be lessons for local history museums to consider.

And yet, place still matters. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's This Place Matters campaign shows people connecting with physical places. The key seems to be that the people connecting to these places have a personal connection that matters to them. The disconnect often comes between a place that matters to someone who doesn't live there, and the choices that person made about where they have to live.

Another sign that place matters is the number of construction projects underway to add space to cultural institutions. Investments in new museums or additions have been significant.

In Museums Cost How Much?, the American Association of Museums reported on the addition of 5.9 million square feet from 2003-2010. Numerous additions not reported abound in Minnesota with the aggregate not known, from recently completed additions to the Winona County Historical Society's 12,000-square-foot addition to the historic Winona Armory, to projects nearing completion like the Pine Island Area Historical Society's 1,000-square-foot addition to the Collins-Glam House, to projects just underway such as the Steele County Historical Society's new 16,000-square-foot building in Owatonna, to the Washington County Historical Society's proposed reuse of a 27,000 square foot former furniture store. Just these alone represent 69,000 square feet of additional capacity.

However, based on the reduction in space for Best Buy or the new expectations in the age of spacelessness, one would have to ask if museums in general might run into some of the same issues as the race for more space continues seemingly with no end in sight.

Is there a balance between necessity of place and increasing placelessness that local history museums might strike? Presuming a certain amount of expansion over time will be necessary (for server room alone?), how might that need be evaluated? What pace of space consumption might be sustainable?