Category Archives: Behind-the-Scenes

Fun with Historic Plaster. Or, Unintended Consequences

Hennepin History Museum is located in a beautiful historic building. It’s a very solid building, but it is nearly 100 years old and it does need some maintenance and upgrades. Recently we’ve identified a ceiling that is at immediate risk of falling, and are asking for your help to address it.

First, some background. In 2017, we were awarded a Legacy grant to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the building. We have been working with an architectural team all this year to review the building’s history and condition. When complete, we will be able to use this document to guide decisions relating to the building, including how to best add climate control and how to make our home accessible, as well as the order in which to tackle items such as repairing masonry, replacing plaster, upgrading electricity, and other similar needs. We made a decision to hold off on all but essential repairs until we had the completed report; that way we could address prevention, maintenance, and repairs in a strategic way. In a typical year, pressing emergency repairs include things like electrical work, leaking pipes, and minor roof repairs.

Unfortunately, we are now facing a serious unexpected repair need that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. The plaster ceiling in our basement hallway and work space is in danger of falling down. The cracks had existed for years. In what is a classic case of unintended consequences, however, the heavy increase in foot traffic in the Museum’s main hallway (directly above the downstairs hallway) has escalated the rate of separation of the plaster from the lathe. We have so many more visitors, volunteers, and staff walking that corridor daily that the cracks below have increased significantly in recent months.

celing 4

Our architectural team has advised that it is dangerous to wait until 2019 to address this cracked ceiling. It could come down at any time, and if it it does fall down it will come down in a sheet — and could potentially injure anyone standing below. This space is a central hub for our collections spaces, as well as is the hallway between our archives and the reading room. The safety of people is our top priority and we have restricted access to this space as a result… causing extreme inconvenience to our volunteers and staff, and limiting our ability to work in downstairs storage spaces.

We have obtained several bids for the removal of the ceiling, and expect it to cost between $3,000 and $4,000. Would you consider making a gift to help cover this unexpected cost? Your gift, whether $4,000, $400, or $40 will make a difference. It will help us to continue our operations on behalf of local history uninterrupted, and will keep this beautiful historic building in good shape.

Click here to help with the ceiling costs

If you have any questions about our historic building or this project, please contact Kristin at

Thank you!

Update on Historic Structure Report progress – June 2018

We are pleased to announce that Hennepin History Museum is now working with Collaborative Design Group (CDG) on our Historic Structure Report (HSR). Eight architectural firms responded to our Request for Proposals and toured the building. All eight submitted bids for the project!

We liked CDG’s focus on historic preservation and renovation which is reflected in previous projects that are similar to ours. Their team has many years of experience identifying and evaluating HVAC, mechanical, electrical and structural issues in historic buildings and making recommendations based on current and anticipated uses.

HSR kick-off 1 LR

Our kick off meeting was held on April 19th and since then we have been working closely with CDG to interpret our building’s history and evaluate its current condition. The team has been all over the building, looking in every nook and cranny, from the boiler room to the tip of our tallest chimney. It has been so interesting to work with the various specialists and learn more about our building and grounds.

Kristen Oliver reflected in doorway

Image courtesy CDG


The final report, which will be completed in November, will assist future planning by creating a detailed picture of the building as it is today. It will also include a prioritized list of repairs and suggested changes, such as ADA improvements, in order to make our home even more welcoming to all.

A very special thank you goes out to the volunteer members of our HSR Advisory team: John Crippen, Debbie Goettel, Reed Holiman, Kim Jeppesen, Casey Krolczyk, Cara Letofsky and Becka Rahn, and to staff representatives Kristin Kaspar, Cedar Phillips, James Bacigalupo, and Heidi Heller. Each one went the extra mile by familiarizing themselves with the National Park Service’s Brief 43 (the official guidelines for an HSR), our grant request and our RFP prior to evaluating the bids to make the final recommendation. Many from this team will continue to be available as needed as we move through the HSR project.

We plan to offer periodic updates on our HSR, both in our magazine, Hennepin History, and on our blog. Stay tuned!


This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society. Thank you, fellow Minnesotans, for supporting arts and culture through the Legacy Amendment!

From the Office of the President: William Watts Folwell’s Desk

By Evan Walker

Today’s Object Lesson might be one of the most exciting objects so far–at least to photograph. At almost 5 feet wide by 3 feet deep, the only way to fit the entire desk in the camera frame was to turn it on its side. Then one of us stood on either side of the desk and held up a white sheet in order to get a clean background.

If you ask me, the photos of the photo shoot are almost as fun as the final artifact photo!

Taking the Photo - Evan

Above: The author demonstrates the many duties of a museum intern!

Taking the Photo - Layne and Heather

Taking the photo - Mike


This desk once stood in the office of William Watts Folwell, first president of the University of Minnesota. Born in New York in 1833, he served as an engineer in the Civil War. When he became president of the University, it had eight professors and 100 students, but he was an instrumental figure in expanding the college and making it more useful for all Minnesotans. By the time he stepped down in 1884 the U had about 960 students, and he continued as a professor and librarian for several years.

Folwell raised a few eyebrows by advocating for a full graduate program and the establishment of museums and libraries at the U, rather than only the more traditional undergraduate program focusing on Greek and Latin. He was described as “a knight errant of the new education… interested in everything from Plato to hog cholera.” Students were more familiar in their descriptions, apparently calling him “Uncle Billy”.

Another of Folwell’s accomplishments was his four-volume history of Minnesota, which he wrote over the course of nine years.

The desk itself is made from oak, with some poplar wood. Each of the 10 drawers can be locked, and there are holes on the top of the desk. These may have been used to attach more shelves or possibly other articles, like a lamp or inkwell.


About the Author

Evan Walker recently completed a summer internship at HHM. He enjoys playing tennis and sharing stories about people and events from the past. Evan will be going into his sophomore year at Luther College in the fall, studying history.


William Watts Folwell

Report of the University of Minnesota, 1884-1886

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Behind-the-Scenes in the Archives

Did you know that Hennepin History Museum is home to vast archives holding materials relating to the history of Hennepin County? We’ll be highlighting materials from the archives on this blog, but these materials are also available for use by the public; while our collection database isn’t (yet) online, we have a physical card catalog available in our reading room, and if you email our archivist, Susan Larson-Fleming, in advance with details about your research project she’ll pull out materials for you in advance (You can reach Susan at

What sorts of things do we hold? A little bit of everything, and a lot of some things. We have tens of thousands of historic photographs of people, places, and events from across the county. Our collection of historic house photographs from Minneapolis gets a lot of use. We have diaries, postcards, menus, yearbooks, cookbooks, calendars, catalogs, scrapbooks, meeting minutes, advertising ephemera, even old train tickets and schedules.

Maintaining archival materials is a little different than what you might do at home. Because our goal is preserve this materials for many generations into the future, we house all materials in acid-free materials (regular cardboard or paper can, over time, can damage archival materials); the boxes you see in this photo are all specially made for archival use. We also catalog each item so that staff and researchers know what is in the collection and where to find it.