Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Highlights from the Legacy-funded Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants Program

Minneapolis tornado

North Minneapolis tornado damage (photo courtesy Tony
Webster)

Every grant awarded through the Legacy-funded Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants (MHCHG) Program provides a valuable opportunity for non-profit and educational institutions, government units and tribal organizations across Minnesota to preserve and share the state’s history and cultural heritage.

More than 500 of these grants have been awarded so far this biennium; more than 950 have been awarded since the Legacy Amendment passed in 2008. A map on page 20 shows where grants have been awarded and is followed by a full listing of grants awarded so far this biennium. MHCHG highlights include:

Three grants to the Isanti County Historical Society (ICHS) are helping the small staff save what’s left of its collections and archives after an arsonist set fire to the ICHS’s Heritage Center on July 8, 2011. The fire destroyed 75% of the ICHS’s archives and collections. Police have not yet made any arrests.

“We are devastated by this senseless act,” said Executive Director Kathleen McCully. “But we are working hard to get back on our feet and we wouldn’t be able to recover nearly as quickly without the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants we’ve received.”

The ICHS had one of the state’s finest Swedish genealogical reference libraries. Legacy funds will help rebuild the library so researchers and genealogists will once again have access to materials they won’t find anywhere else.

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The Alex Seitaniemi house barn in Embarrass is an extremely rare building. The structure, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is one of only three house barns in the United States known to have been built by Finns.

Funds from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants Program are helping Sisu Heritage Inc., an all-volunteer non-profit, save the house barn, an important cultural landmark as well as tourism draw.

“Heritage tourism is a vital part of our rural economy,” said Paul Knuti, Director of Sisu Heritage Inc. “The Alex Seitaniemi Housebarn communicates our region's rich Finnish heritage to our residents and also serves as a way to attract visitors from across Minnesota and beyond.”

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It may not sound like the most exciting project, but a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the Pope County Historical Society will bring important benefits and new opportunities to the community. The single greatest impact to preserving history is controlling temperature and humidity, thereby significantly slowing decay.

The new HVAC system, funded by a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant, will extend the life of Pope County artifacts and archives by creating a stable environment and removing contaminants like ash and soot created by the old corn-fired heating system. As a side benefit, the new system will also save the museum money.

“In addition to greater preservation practices, shifting utility savings into our program budget allows us to serve the community even better,” said Merlin Peterson, Pope County Historical Society Administrator. “We’ll be able to offer more lectures, exhibits and events, bringing more visitors to the museum more often.”

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On May 18, 2011 a tornado devastated families, homes and businesses in North Minneapolis. A Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant is making it possible for Grassroots Culture, a St. Paul non-profit, to record indepth oral histories of what happened.

“This project will create a detailed, primary document of this event, one that lets residents tell their own stories in their own words about what they experienced and how they coped with this disaster,” said Philip Nusbaum, Executive Director of Grassroots Culture.

Grassroots Culture is conducting a dozen interviews with North Side residents of varying ages and backgrounds. Transcripts and digital recordings will be made available to libraries, schools and community organizations.

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An important piece of Iron Range heritage has been missing at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm and a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant will help change that.

“Ojibwe and native peoples made important contributions in this region and we want the public to learn about them. The grant is making it possible to share that story in a new permanent exhibit,” said Mai Vang, Minnesota Discovery Center Curator.

The Center’s primary audience is fifth and sixth graders. Vang said introducing them to Ojibwe and native cultures and history will help students begin to think critically about the ways different groups approach economic and social issues, and it will provide an excellent bridge to their U.S. and global history studies in higher grades.