What does the Historic Fort Snelling revitalization project include?
The project calls for the revitalization of the facilities and the programs at Historic Fort Snelling. The goal is to enhance the visitor experience with a new visitor center, connections to the natural landscape, and program improvements that will orient visitors and engage them as they encounter 10,000 years of enduring human significance at Bdote.
SCOPE OF WORK: MNHS received $15 million of the $30 million requested for the full revitalization project in the 2018 legislative session. After consulting with project and community partners, MNHS decided that it is fiscally responsible to use the money in hand to deliver a quality project, though scaled back from the original project plans. The Historic Fort Snelling revitalization project now includes removal of the current, failing visitor center; creating a dynamic new visitor center with a 4,000-square-foot exhibit inside a rehabilitated 1904 cavalry barracks; making updates to the landscape to provide opportunities for outdoor learning and for reflection and commemoration; improving parking, wayfinding and access; and rolling out an interpretive plan developed with community partners that expands stories of the military, Dakota, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, women and more.
The revised project does not include rehabilitating an 1880 ordnance building (building 22) to turn it into an orientation space, and updates to the landscape and parking will be reduced in scope. If the legislature appropriates funding for Historic Fort Snelling in a bonding bill in 2019, MNHS will undertake these projects on a separate timeline.
What is the new timeline for the revitalization of HFS?
With a revised project in place and the design and development work nearly complete, construction can get underway in fall 2019 with the goal of delivering a revitalized Historic Fort Snelling in 2021.
Once construction starts there may be occasional short-term closings to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, but the site will remain open to visitors and school groups for regular scheduled hours.
Why doesn’t MNHS just fix the current visitor center?
It would take $5.6 million (from a 2013 study) to bring the current, failing visitor center, up to code and because of the size and layout of the visitor center, it would not work to meet our vision for expanded interpretation, even if repaired. In addition, feedback from community members showed a desire to see the historic buildings restored, which is in line with the mission of MNHS to use the power of history to transform lives through preserving, sharing and connecting.
There are so many things called “Fort Snelling.” Are they all owned or managed by the Minnesota Historical Society?
No. The sprawling area known as “Fort Snelling” is owned and managed by multiple organizations and units of government. Historic Fort Snelling (which includes the original fort, dating back to 1820 and located across Highway 55 from the Upper Post) is owned by the state of Minnesota and administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.
In 2012 the various organizations and units of government came together to form the Joint Powers Agreement to clarify roles and responsibilities and lay the groundwork for future investment. The Joint Powers include: General Services Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Park Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Historical Society, Hennepin County, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Common Bond, Boy Scouts of America, and the Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center.
What is the Upper Post? How is it different from Historic Fort Snelling?
Dozens of buildings were built after the Civil War on what is known as the Upper Post area to house and serve U.S. Army soldiers. The Upper Post (adjacent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport) today is owned by the Department of Natural Resources.
For a time, the Upper Post site housed the 25th U.S. Infantry, sometimes referred to as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” all-black regiments in the U.S. Army. During both World Wars I and II, all of Fort Snelling served as an induction and training facility for thousands of soldiers. During WWII, Fort Snelling was home to the Military Intelligence Service Language School, where Japanese American soldiers trained as interpreters, interrogators, and translators for the Pacific Theater.
The military gradually abandoned all of the buildings in the Upper Post area after World War II, disposing of parts of the site to various federal and state agencies. Highway 55 separated HFS from the Upper Post in the 1950s. While several of the buildings were shuttered at the time they were vacated, many have suffered from deferred maintenance and vandalism over the years. The Upper Post and Historic Fort Snelling are part of the National Register of Historic Places historic district, which is also a National Historic Landmark.
I read about someone building affordable housing at the Fort. Is that related?
The announcement in July 2015 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Dominium, an affordable housing developer, to adaptively reuse historic barracks buildings at the Upper Post of Fort Snelling for affordable housing has generated a great deal of interest—and some misconceptions.
Historic Fort Snelling (which includes the original 1820 fort), is owned by the State of Minnesota and administered by MNHS. The original fort is NOT part of the affordable housing proposal, nor is the nearby Fort Snelling Chapel (which is managed by the DNR).
MNHS is pleased that the DNR and Dominium are planning to restore long-abandoned barracks buildings at the Upper Post for affordable housing. Affordable housing for homeless vets, independent of the Dominium proposal, opened Oct. 2, 2015. Upper Post Veterans Community was developed in five historic buildings on the Upper Post by Common Bond Communities. Both initiatives contribute to revitalization of the greater Fort Snelling area, the centerpiece of which is MNHS’ Historic Fort Snelling.
What is the Minnesota Historical Society’s response to those who suggest that Historic Fort Snelling, as a symbol of imperialism, should be destroyed?
The Minnesota Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share our state’s history, including the troubling and more complex parts of our history. MNHS will continue to preserve the historic fort, a National Historic Landmark, so that we can provide learning opportunities about the varied history of the site and fort throughout the years, including the site’s importance as Dakota homeland; the role the fort played in furthering American ambitions for territorial and economic colonization of American Indian lands; and the fort’s role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II; and other historical experiences such as slavery, military history, and the fur trade in Minnesota. The goal of this project is to expand and update interpretation of the fort’s complex and important history.