Gunderson House

The Gunderson House is home to the Kenyon Historical Society. On Saturday, a historical walking tour begins at 1 p.m. at the house. (Anne Kopas/The Kenyon Leader)

They may be focused on the past, but the Kenyon Historical Society is looking to the future.

Members and volunteers met June 4 for the historical society’s annual meeting to discuss the prior year’s progress and plan ahead for the year to come.

In 2018, the historical society introduced its first annual Christmas ornament as a fundraiser, featuring a photo of the Gunderson House. The ornament sold out via word-of-mouth advertising before organizers could publish an announcement, said Rhana Olson, committee member.

The 2019 ornament features a historic photo of the bank building that used to stand at the location of the current post office and old city hall. Olson said the plan is to order more ornaments — last year, they sold 50 and couldn’t fill the demand.

Olson sees the ornaments as a new yearly tradition to replace the Victorian Christmas dinner, a longstanding event canceled in 2017 due to declining interest.

The society’s next event, “Kenyon in Bloom,” will be held 1–3 p.m. Saturday. Maddie Krier, a volunteer with the Goodhue County Historical Society, will give a walking tour through downtown Kenyon, starting at the Gunderson House.

The tour will include “an overall knowledge of how Kenyon was founded and the people that make Kenyon what it is today. It does focus a lot on the people,” said Krier.

The tour is currently scheduled as a one-time event, though it might return in the future if there’s interest.

Coming up later this summer is Rose Fest, when the historical society hosts a pop-up museum and opens up the Gunderson House for tours. The planned pop-up museum will feature locals with antiques or other historical items at outdoor stands, sharing their expertise with anyone who walks by.

“We’re looking forward to doing some events down there that will involve more people in the community,” said Olson.

As usual, the Gunderson House is open for tours the third weekend of each month from June through September.

The historical society is also considering a German-style Oktoberfest event with brats, beer-tastings and music in September, though plans are still in progress.

The Cookie Walk returns in December, when people can tour the Gunderson House while filling up a container with homemade cookies. In 2018, the fundraiser pulled in $1,200 for the historical society.

“We have to have some way to make some money here. People have enjoyed it,” said Olson.

The Gunderson House is partially supported by city funds, but the rest comes from fundraiser and membership dues. It can be a challenge, said Olson, to keep things running, especially since the house is staffed by volunteers that give tours and help with tasks like snow removal and lawn mowing.

If this year’s funding permits it, the Historical Society has its eye on a new furnace for the 1895 Victorian home. Currently, heating challenges mean the house is closed during the winter.

“We’re glad when we have a City Council that appreciates the history of the house, because it’s a little bit of a burden in some ways,” said Olson.

Stirring up interest in house tours is growing more challenging, said Olson, as public interest in history is changing. But many of its new visitors are fifth-graders who tour on a field trip and later bring their parents, some of whom have never visited, though the tours have been available since 1976.

“We’ve always lived here, but we’ve never been in the house,” is a common comment from longtime residents, said Olson. It’s the refrain she’s trying to change.

Reach Reporter Anne Kopas at 507-333-3148. Follow her on Twitter @NFNanne.

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