1936-1996: Celebrating 60 Years of Preserving History
An old, grey, cloth-bound composition book with yellowed pages holds the minutes of the first meeting of the Morrison County Historical Society. On July 28, 1936, a small group of citizens met at the Morrison County courthouse for an organizational meeting. The minutes state, “The object of this society is to record history of the events in Morrison County from the day of Lieutenant Pike’s exploration in 1805 to the present date. Biographies of persons who will furnish information and consent, history of the World War and those who have taken part, Record Hand Craft and Folk Craft, and establish a museum for the various articles that have been used in the homes, farms, lumbering woods, mines, etc., for the education, information, benefit, and enjoyment of the people of Morrison county and future generations.”
The first year of this ambitious new organization was to be led by: Val Kasparek, President; Mrs. Harry Stillwell, Vice President; Mrs. A. E. Amundsen, Secretary; and Mrs. Warren Gibson, Treasurer. Members of the Board of Trustees were Frank Logan, Royalton; and Mrs. Julius Jetka, Mrs. J. K. Martin, Mrs. Warren Gibson and Mrs. R. L. Cochrane, all of Little Falls. With no money in the treasury, this group immediately incurred $5.50 in expenses – $1.00 for stamps, $1.00 for a letter file, a cash book and a secretary book at $.25 each, and membership in the Minnesota Historical Society for $3.00. Mrs. Stillwell moved that “the Society constitute a membership committee and as soon as enough money is collected to pay the bills, that the Sec’y draw an order on the Treas. for same.” It was seconded and carried. At the same meeting, six people paid their membership fees of $.50 leaving the organization with a $2.50 deficit. It was noted that President Kasparek had not paid his dues to the Secretary. The official Certificate of Incorporation for the Morrison County Historical Society was filed September 15, l936.
At a meeting on May 5, 1937, the Society (with the assistance and under the guidance of the W.P.A.) launched a project to collect biographies of as many Morrison County residents as possible, particularly those of immigrant pioneers. The project not only provided jobs and income to local residents, it also gave impetus to the historical society and provided a wealth of family history that is being used by the growing numbers of genealogists today.
The Society quickly assumed responsibility for many preservation projects. They placed a marker on the grave of Hon. Nathan Richardson, who was credited with the organization of Morrison County, marked the grave of Hole-In-The Day I on the bluffs north of Little Falls, and made attempts to save the site of old Fort Ripley. Collections of artifacts soon began to arrive and the Society needed a home. The Morrison County Board of Commissioners offered a room in the basement of the courthouse. That small room, with asbestos covered pipes overhead, and the dimly lit hallway adjacent to it, was the home of the Morrison County Historical Society for almost forty years until the construction of The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum.
The first donations to the museum were made in the summer of 1938, John Wetzel being the first donor. During the first year many of the donated items were photographs. Other items were logging tools and equipment, a bear trap, a cradle, and a cavalry sabre. The Vasaly family donated an organ which had been made into a desk. The organ had been used for entertainment at Fort Ripley. The organ/desk is still being used by Archivist Bruce Mellor and now holds his computer.
Much of the activity of the Society was curtailed during the 1940s due to WWII, however, collecting of artifacts continued. Val Kasparek continued to work diligently for the benefit of the Society. In l952 the Morrison County Historical Society increased its efforts to acquire members. Alex Huddleston was appointed curator of the museum at a salary of seventy dollars per month.
At the Society’s annual meeting in 1957 it was reported that there was poor attendance. The Society seems to have struggled until 1962 when the Minnesota Historical Society called a reorganization meeting. It was the beginning of an invigorated Morrison County Historical Society. The Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws were updated and plans began to take shape for a new museum. In l975 the Society moved into its new building, The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, donated to the Society in honor of the late Charles A. Weyerhaeuser by members of his family.
The early efforts of the dedicated historians who organized the Morrison County Historical Society laid the groundwork for the past sixty years of collecting, preserving and interpreting Morrison County’s History. And, although this writer did not find a record of Mr. Kasparek ever paying his dues, in 1940 the Board of Trustees voted to give him a life membership for all of the work he had done for the Society, a well deserved tribute for the gentleman who was the first President of the Morrison County Historical Society.
By Jan Warner
Copyright 1996, Morrison County Historical Society