The wait is officially over.

The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in downtown Brainerd had a soft reopening Friday, June 18, based on the unanimous decision by its board at its June 15 meeting.

“The number of (COVID) cases are down, and the state has decided to open up most things, and our staff has all had the opportunity to vaccinate,” Hillary Swanson, executive director of the society, said. “And we hate to miss out on all of the summer visitors that we get.”

June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


The three-story building adjacent to the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse is owned and maintained by the county. It once housed the county jail and sheriff’s home. But the museum has been closed since March of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“After the initial restoration of the building, we went straight into another construction project, which was our attic storage area. And then following that, we went straight into the construction of our new library … and then COVID hit,” she said Thursday.

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Swanson said she hopes to include the grand reopening of the building as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of Brainerd’s founding that will happen in September.

“Due to time constraints, I have postponed the completion of the Brainerd (sesquicentennial) exhibit to concentrate on areas that cannot be sectioned off,” Swanson said of the museum and library on Laurel Street that attracted 2,309 visitors in 2019.

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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railroad, farming, mining and education, while the library includes thousands of photographs, microfilms, books and historical documents.

“You’ll notice as soon as you come in the door that we have a little bit more of a gift shop than we’ve ever had before,” Swanson said of one of the more visible changes since the facility closed.

Frequent patrons of the tourist attraction also may notice updates to the logging exhibit and the military exhibit.

“We’ve tried to make them very much related to specific people from Crow Wing County rather than just general information about the different wars,” Swanson said of the latter.

A new display visitors can enjoy focuses on stereoviews, thin paper photographs pasted onto a 3 1/2-by-7-inch card.

June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“It was a very popular Victorian pastime,” she said. “Two images would come together to make one three-dimensional image. We have a set of nine different images that are of the first railroad bridge and then very early Brainerd scenes that visitors will be able to see with stereo glasses.

A perennial favorite with visitors to the facility, according to Swanson, is the jail cell that was preserved.

June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We started with just 13 jail cells in 1917. And then we were able to get our building for the museum because they needed a larger jail and built the law enforcement center next door, which I believe had about 60 jail cells,” she said.

Swanson said early Brainerd had all the trappings of a true frontier town that many now only think of as some places that existed in the proverbial “Wild Wild West.”

June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
June, 18, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“The way Brainerd started, too, it was saloons and a lot of men who just came here for work. It wasn’t necessarily families,” Swanson said.

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

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“I feel like learning more about the past, and especially local history, enriches daily life as you go about your day ... thinking that many people did many things to make this community what it is today,” Swanson said.

About the museum and library

The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library is located at 320 Laurel St. in downtown Brainerd.

Hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, closed on Sundays and Mondays.

The cost of admission is a $3 suggested donation per adult.

(Officials strongly recommend visitors who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine wear face masks upon entering.)

For more information, call 218-829-3268 or visit www.crowwinghistory.org.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.