The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library celebrates the past, but Executive Director Hillary Swanson is also looking to the future by making improvements.

The historical society will upgrade the research library into a “welcoming, beautiful, comfortable space accessible to anyone for research, reading or relaxing,” according to officials.

James Olav Saboe, a frequent research library patron, envisioned a more user-friendly space, and three years after his death, his wife Mary is making his vision a reality.

“James’ most beloved place on earth was always that quarter section of Crow Wing County land, its buildings, its history and the cherished memories it preserved,” Mary Saboe stated in the historical society’s newsletter.

The new library under construction will feature his collection of roughly 350 books related to the county with additional materials from the historical society’s collection available for patrons to peruse in a space designed by Widseth Smith Nolting of Baxter.

“Moved by this devotion, James became an avid student of all things related to Crow Wing County, including its history, geology, geography, natural resources, industry, cities, citizenry and art,” Mary Saboe stated.

The lower-level library will also be equipped with a public computer and offer Wi-Fi for internet connectivity -- something that was not available before for library patrons -- so visitors can research on their own electronic devices or go online while at the facility.

Seating will include private workstations, a sitting area and a table for large groups to work together, and will feature elements and styles inspired by the sheriff’s residence, according to the historical society newsletter.

Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library Executive Director Hillary Swanson looks at some of the artifacts in the attic, which include everything from candle molds, wood planes and light fixtures to bibles, flags and pins. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library Executive Director Hillary Swanson looks at some of the artifacts in the attic, which include everything from candle molds, wood planes and light fixtures to bibles, flags and pins. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Storage space

The permanent museum exhibits include ones related to lumber, railroad, farming, mining and education, while the library includes thousands of photographs, microfilms, books and historical documents. The facility attracted more than 2,000 visitors in 2017, according to officials.

A new sign produced by the welding department at Central Lakes College will be installed this week at the Laurel Street site, as well as a recovered railing from the 1898 Laurel Street bridge.

“I am excited for these new additions on the front lawn and thankful to CLC for their work and contribution. In addition, these items could be referred to as finishing touches to the renovation,” Swanson said.

The county historical society recently received a $47,649 grant approved by the Minnesota Historical Society to replace the storage shelving in the attic and second-floor closet. The grant was made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.

“With the county getting their funding to renovate and preserve the building and restore things, they had found up in the attic several years ago … that we had too much weight up in the attic, and it was causing some cracking of a beam on the second floor,” Swanson said.

The county received a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant for its “Preserving History: Crow Wing County Historical Museum and Research Library” project and was awarded a $224,557 grant in 2017 from the Minnesota Historical Society for repairs.

The renovation restored and updated the more than 100-year-old museum on Laurel Street in Brainerd. The three-story building adjacent to the County Historic Courthouse is owned and maintained by the county. It once housed the Crow Wing County Jail and sheriff’s home.

“Because we are a repurposed building, there’s not a storage facility in here,” Swanson said of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum and library were housed in the courthouse basement in 1933 before relocating to its current site at 320 Laurel St. in 1983.

Community members provided a matching donation of $4,035 for the rehousing collection storage project that focused on the attic and second-floor closet used for storage space.

“We were told that there’s still basically too much weight up in the attic because that’s what we used for our storage area. … The shelving that was up there was really heavy. It was made out of old boards and metal shelving in addition to the weight of the artifacts,” Swanson said.

The new shelving will be pH neutral and powder coated to professional museum standards. Designed and installed by professionals, the shelving will hopefully improve the storage capacity and safety, and allow the society to properly care for items donated by area residents.

“It will also improve our ability to share these items with the public through increased accessibility to items for research, digital cataloging, and ease the creation of temporary and rotating exhibits,” according to a newsletter about the rehousing collection storage project.

About 30% of the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library's collection is in storage, which almost entirely consists of the former county jail and former county sheriff's residence’s attic and its second-floor closet. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
About 30% of the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library's collection is in storage, which almost entirely consists of the former county jail and former county sheriff's residence’s attic and its second-floor closet. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Museum collections

About 30% of the museum’s collection is in storage, which almost entirely consists of the former residence’s attic and its second-floor closet.

“We don’t have enough exhibit space to exhibit everything, so it does go in storage,” Swanson said. “One of my main objectives with the grant was … having that space upstairs being organized and knowing what’s up there.”

The attic is 910 square feet, with 80 linear feet of historic communications equipment and 110 linear feet of acid-free storage boxes containing everything from candle molds, wood planes and light fixtures to bibles, flags and pins.

“We have things catalogued to a certain extent, but it’s all paper catalogued. ... It’s not all in a searchable, electronic database,” Swanson said.

There is an additional 50 linear feet of unboxed items from fishing nets to lightbulbs. The attic also holds furniture, a pump organ and other large musical instruments, and spinning wheels with 35 linear feet of hanging clothing racks for military uniforms and furs.

“We have some things in a database, and we do have a database that we can use, but in order to get the manpower to get all of that in there is a huge undertaking,” Swanson said.

The rest of the garments are stored in the 160-square-foot second-floor closet, which has 65 linear feet of shoeboxes, 20 linear feet of hanging garments and more than 60 hatboxes. The items are in acid-free boxes stacked from floor to ceiling, making them almost inaccessible.

“You’re not going to put something on display if you can’t get to it, but now that area is all cleaned up, and we’re ready for the new shelving to go in and have access to things,” Swanson said.

There is also an additional 80 linear feet of clothing boxes and mannequins in the closet, constituting a collection ranging from the late 1800s to the 1970s, including 25 wedding gowns.

“If we know what we have, then we can put on temporary displays, which not only allows more things to be seen, but I also hope that it would bring more people in because it would change, and if it’s something new, then you would want to come and see what’s new,” Swanson said.

The museum and library are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. A donation of $3 per adult is requested for admission.