Rice County Historical Society leaders say the ever-expanding historical record of the county presents the need for an addition to the Rice County History Museum.
They are asking county commissioners to give them a parcel of land for their expansion.
The majority of Rice County Board of Commissioners support the idea, but have not yet cast their vote.
The desired land, located at 1900 Second Ave. NW, is adjacent to the Rice County History Museum.
The land was purchased by the county in July, after agreeing to the purchase last January for $170,000. The 1,330-square-foot house on the land has since been razed, making it a good fit for RCHS, according to a letter from the organization’s board of directors.
“History is ongoing, new people and events add to the stories and artifacts we collect every day,” the letter states. “We have been able to put a significant portion of our collection on display, but there are several key themes and stories we simply don’t have the space to share.”
The board’s request, first presented to the board at a work session on Dec. 20, also includes several ideas regarding how the space could be utilized. Most critically, board members would like to build an addition to the current museum.
The expansion’s construction would be largely, if not entirely, funded by the RCHS’ building expansion fund, which sits at just over $55,000.
Agriculture is one proposed theme for exhibit expansions. RCHS Executive Director Sue Garwood pointed out the current collection stops in the 1920s, while agriculture has continued to rapidly evolve.
She said she would like to see an old tractor display, accompanied by a tractor show during the Rice County Fair. She also gave examples regarding post-WWII fertilizers and modern hydroponics.
“At one point in time, 90% of the citizens in the U.S. lived or worked on farms,” Garwood said. “Now it’s only about 10%. But again, it’s impacted all of us. These are just things that are big topics that require space.”
Garwood said she’d also like to display military uniforms from Rice County residents who served, especially more from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Another exhibit idea is the evolution of Braille, which the Historical Society “discovered through conversations at the Braille school.”
She also suggested utilizing the space for school trips and educational events, and to host traveling exhibits.
Garwood also suggested a research center, where the public could browse archives and records. It also could be used to help record history being made.
“Even stories that are happening now that we would want to collect,” she said. “The pandemic, for example, telling that story. And having the space to tell it. We’ve collected newspapers and reports from it.”
She invited members of the public to offer their own ideas by calling 507-332-2121 or emailing RCHS@RCHistory.org.
She expressed some disappointment that she “won’t be the one to see this to fruition” because she soon will be retiring. (See a feature about Garwood and her replacement in a future edition of the Daily News).
“It’s early and we haven’t gotten the authorization,” Garwood noted. It’s not yet decided when the board will vote on the request.
During her presentation to the County Board last month, a few Commissioners expressed their support for the agreement.
“I always enjoy history, especially related to agriculture,” Commissioner Jeff Docken said. “And I think that’s a huge thing here. So, yeah, I know I certainly would be in support of doing it.”
Docken went on to clarify that they do not vote during their work sessions, rather the vote will be cast in a future meeting.
Commissioner Jim Purfeerst also expressed his gratitude for the consideration of an agriculture exhibit.
“Thank you for considering agriculture,” he said. “It’s a big part of our county.”
Commissioner Galen Malecha also shared his support for the expansion.
“I’m in agreement and think this is a great opportunity for the Historical Society,” Malecha said. “Certainly we can work out an agreement in the near future for the use of the property. … I think they’ll make the best use of it.”
New Commissioner Gerry Hoisington said he also supports the project.
“I think it makes sense, especially since the county already owns it,” he said. “From what I understand, it was well-received.”