Growing History

WOW! Where have the years gone?

It seems like such a very short time ago that we were sitting down with Foster Dunwiddie to begin the process of designing a new museum for Morrison County. We remember well Foster’s advice to determine the “program” for the Society before making any major design decisions. He explained that it is much more efficient to have in mind what you plan to do, and then design a building around those plans, rather than to try to fit what you plan to do into an existing structure.

We appointed a Building Committee which met with Jan Warner and Foster several times, and which provided valuable input and ideas. Then Jan and Foster drove all over the county looking at old buildings to see what styles had been popular in this area. Foster also looked at many old photographs of Morrison County buildings, including Fort Gaines (which is now included within Camp Ripley), to see what buildings looked like in the past. Foster’s keen eye picked up on the various design elements in all of these buildings, and out of all that effort and study came the museum which we know today.

At the same time that the building was being planned, Jan and Foster were working with Jon Low, a young designer working with Miller-Dunwiddie, on the scope and design of the displays which would help to tell the story of Morrison County. Jon had just the right touch in bringing together the story to be told and the type of exhibits needed to convey that story. The many compliments we have heard regarding displays indicate that he did a superb job. Jon also selected the furnishings which we are still using today.

Prior to moving into the new building, the museum had been housed in one very small room in the basement of what is now known as the Historic Courthouse. Most of the artifacts and documents were crammed together in a haphazard fashion in that room which served as office, display, and storage space, while other artifacts were placed out in the hallway, or in a small damp vault located on the other side of the basement. There was no space available for work or research areas, and no security for any part of the collection. There was also absolutely no temperature or humidity control for any of the artifacts, photographs or documents.

What a joy it was moving into a building which had an office area, and separate spaces for display and storage, a library, a room for meetings, and a workroom. It also had temperature and humidity controls, and an alarm system to help protect items which cannot be replaced. The temperature and humidity are monitored at five points throughout the Museum, and the alarm system keeps track of entrance to the building, movement within the building, smoke, high temperature (which could indicate a fire), and low temperature (which could indicate that the heating system is not working).

It didn’t take very long to realize how this new space would allow us to improve and expand on the service which we provide to the community, and to the many people who study history and do research on a variety of subjects. With the tremendous increase in interest in family history, the Museum placed us in a position where we could be of very real service to genealogists. Of course, this also meant that there was a need for more than the one Staff person we had at that time. We now must have a highly skilled, trained, and educated Staff to meet the needs of patrons. Fortunately, we have an excellent Staff of one full-time person, and four part-time people, to operate the Museum (which is open year around), and to assist those who come in, write, call, or send an e-mail message, to do research.

Additions to the Museum in 1981 allowed us to receive, store and care for more artifacts, photographs, and documents which have proved invaluable in doing research and in telling the story of Morrison County. The installation of a computer system in 1993, under the expert guidance of Dorothy Bachan, literally catapulted us into the electronic world and all that can be accomplished with a few strokes on a computer keyboard. We are now on the edge of entering the rather unbelievable world of the Internet, with all that can be accomplished through that mystical world-wide connection of computers.

It’s somewhat awesome to think that in twenty-five years we have gone from paper and pencil, an old rickety typewriter, and one telephone in a small crowded basement room, to a multi-room building with digitized and computerized record keeping, and the ability to contact almost any part of the information world in a matter of a few seconds. The Museum, with all of the electronic advances which have been incorporated into the building, has greatly expanded the ways in which we can be of service to the many people who have an interest in history and genealogy.

By Art Warner
Copyright 2000, Morrison County Historical Society

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