Collection connects residents to history [UPDATED]Published 9:35am Tuesday, May 7, 2013 Updated 11:37am Tuesday, May 7, 2013
It’s an organization that has helped changed the way one small town keeps its history.
Formed in 1938 and incorporated in 1944, the Grant County Historical Society has grown with the town of Elbow Lake. For director Patty Benson, it has given their organization a unique position in the community that other museums might not have
“We collect local,” said Benson, who has been with the society for 21 years. “You have bigger museums collecting from all over, but we give more local meaning to what we have and the stories we tell.”
The museum is home to pre-historic artifacts, mammoth bones, Native American arrowheads and pioneer-era tools and other items. They also feature a Veterans’ Memorial Hall, with uniforms and regalia from the Civil War to current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The museum also displays several larger items as well. The oldest known ox cart in the state, built around 1820, is housed on permanent loan from the Minnesota Historical Society, along with an authentic Norwegian cabin and schoolhouse outside the building.
But while the larger items attract a number of the nearly 2,000 visitors the museum has over a year, Benson said many come looking for copies of old newspapers and church records. With interest in genealogy on the rise across the country, many visitors want to connect with their own past.
While museum staff put in much effort to get significant artifacts on display, Benson said the popular connection with genealogy is one she promotes and enjoys herself. Her lineage back to the one of the first families in Erdahl Township was what helped spark her interest in history.
“You feel a connection to the past because of that and you get interested in what affected them at the time they came here,” Benson said. “People walk away with an insight into that. It’s fun when kids come in with their grandparents because there’s always that nice connection.”
That personal touch to history is not something that has always been the focus at the society, however. But the change has been for the better, according to Benson, especially because of what it means for the future.
“A lot of the earlier collecting was from the pioneer time and not necessarily from their own,” Benson said. “We’re thinking of collecting present-day items and looking out for things like that because, someday, that’s what is going to be history.”
While steady visitors like students from local schools are always fun, Benson said it’s the walk-ins that make her days interesting. From family members looking into medical histories, to lawyers looking for descendants, the treasures people find in their pasts keep adding to the excitement she finds in the quiet building.
“All of the sudden something can be the missing link that somebody was looking for,” Benson said. “I never know who is going to walk through that door.”