Image, above: Hennepin History Museum c. 1958
Today is the day: Hennepin History Museum is celebrating our 80th anniversary! On April 11, 1938, a group of residents interested in the preservation of local history gathered in the Hennepin County Commissioners’ chambers to discuss the creation of a new organization. “One of the main objects of the proposed society should,” they agreed, “be to obtain pioneer specimens now as the pioneers of Hennepin County were rapidly passing away.” The Hennepin County Board was happy to help; the County had been given a $60,000 Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant for the specific purpose of collecting historical material, and the Commissioners supported using the funds to staff the new historic society and museum. (Hennepin County still supports the museum; the County provides approximately 45% of our annual operating budget, with individuals, corporations, and foundations providing the bulk of the remainder.)
In 1938, the new Hennepin County Historical Society opened in one large “display room” on the second floor of Oak Hill School in St. Louis Park. Within months, we had taken over the entire second floor! Historic treasures from the county’s past flowed into to the newly formed museum, and in 1939 organizers reported that the collection “cannot be adequately shown to the public on account of lack of space and proper display conditions.” In 1944, we moved to a new home, this time located at 1516 Harmon Place in Loring Park.
By the mid-1950s, space was yet again an issue, and the board began to seek out a larger, more permanent home. In 1958, we moved into our current home. 2303 Third Avenue South, the former residence of philanthropist Carolyn McKnight Christian, was selected for its size, its fire-resistant materials, and adequate parking.
In addition to collecting historic items relating to Hennepin County’s past, the museum’s early leaders focused on sharing history with the public. “From the beginning the Society has endeavored to make the Museum an educational force,” says one of earliest brochures. Shortly after opening we published Bohemian Flats, written by WPA writers and sponsored by the museum. We’re proud to report that this book is still in print today!
Our first magazine, then a quarterly bulletin, was published in April 1941, and today is one of the longest continuing historic publications in the state. Hennepin History has published articles on hundreds of local history topics. A commitment to telling the full story of Hennepin County has long been part of our mission. In 1991, for example, we became one of (and possibly the) first local history organizations in the nation to publish an article about local LGBTQ history.
That same year, following extensive community research, Hennepin County Historical Society changed its name to Hennepin History Museum. While our name may have changed, our commitment to preserving and sharing the history of Hennepin County remained the same.
For 2018, we’ve selected “why do people collect?” for our anniversary theme. We’ll be delving deep into this them through a year’s worth of programs and exhibitions, including a behind-the-scenes “visible storage” laboratory-turned-gallery. Here, visitors can watch as our volunteers and staff conduct an exhaustive inventory of our collection, and observe as tens of thousands of historic artifacts are recorded, photographed, and entered into a searchable database.
Today, we have the opportunity to look back while at the same dreaming about our future. We invite you to join us for an exciting 2018 as we celebrate 80 wonderful history-filled years!
Your financial support makes all of this possible. Please consider becoming a member or making a financial contribution. Your support would make this birthday year even better! And a very special thank you to current members, donors, and visitors – we couldn’t do this without you.