Crow Wing County jail, sheriff’s residence repurposed for museum, library

The one-time Crow Wing Count Jail and residence of the sheriff on Laurel Street was converted to a museum and research library.

Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library exterior
The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library is located at 320 Laurel St. in Brainerd.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library in Brainerd has a criminal record.

The museum and library are housed in the former Crow Wing County jail and sheriff’s residence just west of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse on Laurel Street.

The county board adopted a resolution at its Feb. 1, 1916, meeting to hire Alden & Harris, architects of St. Paul, to prepare plans and specifications for, and to supervise, the construction of a new county jail and sheriff’s residence with a projected cost of $28,000.

“It was to be one of the most modern in the state,” according to Ann M. Nelson, a local historian. “The structure, measuring 50 by 100 feet, two stories high, was to contain a 21 jail and sheriff’s residence. It was to be built of Twin City mat brick and have a tile roof.”

Crow Wing County Jail-turned-museum exterior
Lettering outside a building entrance of the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library on Laurel Street in Brainerd indicates the facility's former purpose as a county jail.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

H. J. Frandsen of St. Paul was the general contractor, Slipp-Gruenhagen Co. of Brainerd did the plumbing, heating and lighting, and the Diebold Safe & Lock Co. of St. Paul did the cell work.


The ground was broken for the Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park project in Brainerd in June. The planned greenspace with trails and pathways, a community amphitheater and an outdoor classroom with

Alden & Harris were the architects for the Brainerd City Hall and Brainerd Fire Hall and the Crow Wing County Courthouse built in the early 1900s, according to Nelson’s research on the topic.

“On Nov. 18, 1927, the Daughters of the American Revolution held a mass meeting for the purpose of organizing a Crow Wing County Historical Society,” Nelson wrote in an article for the society. “Samuel R. Adair was elected the first president of the newly organized society.”

The museum even includes the basket used in the robbery of First National Bank — now Design Consign on South Sixth Street — by Baby Face Nelson, the bank robber from the 1930s.
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.

Conditions of the grant included salvaging and reusing historic bricks whenever possible or using mortar to “match the color, texture, strength, composition, joint width and joint profile of historic masonry” to ensure architectural and historical integrity.

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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

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.

Exterior work included repairs to the roof, concrete and mortar; repairs to the steps and brick; and fixing the drainage system. Windows were replaced with double-hung windows to bring back the original look of the building.

“The largest part of work inside was the upgrading of the existing HVAC system to improve the environmental conditions within the building,” Nelson wrote about renovations for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

The renovation restored and updated the more than 100-year-old museum on Laurel Street in Brainerd; the museum and library were housed in the courthouse basement in 1933 before relocating to its current site at 320 Laurel St. in 1983.


“Total cost of the project was estimated at $419,856. The remaining cost was matched from a Crow Wing County Capital Improvement Fund, which was funded by levy, county program aid, lease payments and tax-forfeited settlement dollars,” according to Nelson.

The Laurel Street building is owned and maintained by the county and contains microfilms of newspapers, books, maps, exhibits and other items of historical value.

The museum and library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The register is the official list of the nation's historic places “worthy of preservation.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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