Article written fall 2009 for MCHS newsletter, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2009.
As energy conservation upgrades are being explored for The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial, questions about how to bring the building into the green revolution without compromising its integrity and its cultural and historic value have led to interesting discussions among staff, board and various local contractors. During one such discussion, it was pointed out that certain alterations would cause the museum to no longer be eligible for potential listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act enacted in 1966, the National Register of Historic Places has served for over forty years as the official list of those properties designated worthy of preservation. A comprehensive nationwide historic preservation program, the Register seeks to protect the significant historic and archaeological resources of the nation.
Administered by the National Park Service under the United States Secretary of the Interior, the National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program that supports public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect the nation’s cultural resources. The Register “seeks to foster a national preservation ethic, promote a greater appreciation of America’s heritage and increase and broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of historic places” (The National Register of Historic Places Brochure, 2002). Properties on the list include districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects, thus reflecting the rich diversity of the Nation’s heritage. Listing on the Register is a distinct honor and allows owners to seek financial support through Federal historic preservation funding.
The process of applying for National Register status is fairly straightforward. National Register nomination forms must be prepared and submitted to a State review board. The board evaluates the nomination and makes a recommendation to the State Historic Preservation Officer either to approve or disapprove the nomination. The director of the Minnesota Historical Society serves as Minnesota’s State Historic Preservation Officer. Minnesota’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) was created by state statute in 1969. It is located in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Historic Preservation, Field Services and Grants Department. During the time the State Historic Preservation Officer is reviewing the proposed nomination, property owners and local authorities are notified and are given the opportunity to comment. If there is no objection or, as in the case of a district with multiple owners, if a majority of private property owners do not object, the State Historic Preservation Officer may approve the nomination and forward it to the National Park Service for consideration. If approved by the National Park Service, the nomination is officially entered in the National Register.
Of the more than 1,500 Minnesota listings on the National Register of Historic Places as of October 2009, twenty-three are from Morrison County. More than 80,000 sites are listed nationwide. Included among the Morrison County sites are the Morrison County Courthouse, the Little Falls Carnegie Library, the Church of St. Joseph in Pierz, the Almond A. White House in Motley and Fort Duquesne in Green Prairie Township. The earliest to receive acceptance to the list was the Charles A. Lindbergh House. The Lindbergh House was added to the Register in 1970 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The most recent was the Little Falls Commercial Historic District (vicinity of First Street and Broadway), which encompasses thirty-two National Register contributing properties. The District was added to the Register in 1994.
In order to be eligible for or listed in the National Register, properties must meet a set of criteria that was established by the National Park Service. Generally, a property must be at least fifty years old and have maintained its original appearance. A property must also demonstrate significance, such as association with the lives of people who were important in the past or with historic events, activities or developments. In order for The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, which is approaching its thirty-fifth anniversary, to seek National Register designation in the future, it would need to continue to be used as it was originally intended with minimal change to its character and architectural style as well as to its distinctive materials and craftsmanship. The building, which was built in 1975, was designed by Miller Dunwiddie Architecture of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Principal architect, Foster Dunwiddie, developed the design after extensive research, including driving around the county looking at various structures and examining photographs of older sites, one of which was Fort Gaines (now in Camp Ripley). Dunwiddie incorporated materials native to the county and features found in early architecture of the area in the building’s design. The yellow brick used to construct the two fireplaces and the chimneys, for example, were manufactured around 1900 at the Duclos Brick Factory of Little Falls. The museum’s hallways feature slate flooring, which is similar to that found in the nearby Mississippi River bed, and rough-sawn lumber, reflecting the early settlements of the area as well as the importance of the logging industry. The building was donated by Weyerhaeuser family members to the Morrison County Historical Society as a memorial to Charles A. Weyerhaeuser (1864-1930), who served as general manager of the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls from its inception in 1890 until 1920. Designed intentionally as an artifact, the museum was meant to illustrate the architectural history of Morrison County as well as provide a home for the Morrison County Historical Society, its programs and collections.
Even with the addition in 1981 of the Artifact and Archive Collections wings, the huge influx of items to the collections over the last thirty-plus years and the ever-increasingly fast-paced and dynamic world of technology, which is reinterpreting the face of the museum world, the integrity of The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum has been maintained and preserved. To date, there have been very few alterations to the original building and the original furnishings are, amazingly, still in use today. With this in mind, who knows, maybe one day the Weyerhaeuser Museum will join the ranks of the other Morrison County properties in the National Register of Historic Places, reflecting the county’s unique spirit, character and identity and honoring its irreplaceable heritage.
By Ann Marie Johnson
Copyright 2009, Morrison County Historical Society