Crow Wing County historical museum and library renovations to get underway
Take a step inside the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd with its numerous and varied items, and it's easy to lose track of time.
The museum and library housed in the former Crow Wing County Jail and sheriff's home is steeped in history, but the building has seen better days, so it was recently awarded a $224,557 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for some much-needed repairs.
"The society, itself, was incorporated in 1927 and so it took awhile for the area residents to donate items, and so the first museum was held in the first county jail," said Pam Nelson, director of the museum.
The museum and library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was housed in the courthouse basement in 1933 before relocating to its current site at 320 Laurel St. in 1983.
The renovation will restore and update the more than 100-year-old museum. The three-story building adjacent to the county Historic Courthouse is owned and maintained by the county.
"Since I came here in 2007 to work in this building, I have seen an increase in the number of older people interested in history ... and schoolkids love it, so you've got to hope that it inspires them to be little historians as they get older," Nelson said.
Hillary Swanson will soon become the director of the museum and library, which includes microfilms of newspapers, books, maps, exhibits and other items of historical value.
"I just think it's fascinating to see how people used to live, and I think it's fun, especially for children to see, for example, people had an icebox instead of a refrigerator," Swanson said.
The museum includes the basket used in the robbery of First National Bank—now Design Consign on South Sixth Street—by Baby Face Nelson, an American bank robber in the 1930s.
"It's the actual basket that held one of the guns, and it was covered as they went down the street, so it camouflaged their weapons," said Nelson, no relation to the deadly criminal.
The county was selected to receive a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant for its "Preserving History: Crow Wing County Historical Museum and Research Library" project.
"From our standpoint, it's very exciting and we're overjoyed because where does the future of this building go if it's not taken care of? We would maybe in the future have to leave the building," Nelson said.
Exterior work will include repairs to the roof, concrete and mortar repairs to the steps and brick, and fixing the drainage system. Windows will be replaced with double-hung windows to bring back the original look of the building.
"The building, itself, is part of the collection, basically," Swanson said of the storied past of the property.
Interior work will consist of updating building code compliance and Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, renovating three bathrooms and an attic walkway. The largest part of work inside will be upgrading the existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
"I've seen original photos that we have get crinkly and crispy because of the humidity in here. It's low in the winter," Nelson said of the HVAC system.
Conditions of the grant include "historic bricks shall be salvaged and reused whenever possible" or "repointing mortar must match the color, texture, strength, composition, joint width and joint profile of historic masonry" to ensure architectural and historical integrity of the property.
"The construction documents and the plan have pretty much been set, actually for a couple of years," county facilities coordinator Rachel Breun said of last month's grant.
The museum includes displays on the lumber industry, the railroads and home life. Visitors can venture into their own histories using the museum's research library. They may also look at newspapers going back to the late 1800s, including the Brainerd Dispatch dating back to 1881.
"The county board will make their final approval or acceptance on the grant application this Tuesday, and from there we go out and publicly post bid for a contractor. Then the contractor will submit to their schedule, so we don't know specific construction dates," Breun said.
The grant for the renovation project has been financed in part with funds provided by the state of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.
"The county board has agreed to basically, as a financial donation or commitment to the historical society, allow the historical society to use this building at no charge."
The total cost of the project is estimated at $419,856. The remaining cost will be matched from the Crow Wing County capital improvement fund, which is funded by levy, county program aid, lease payments and tax-forfeited settlement dollars.
"Probably most of the work will be done within four months is what we are kind of thinking," Breun said.