“Hennepin History Museum: Celebrating 80 years” on display in Hennepin Gallery through August 16

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Media contacts:
Carolyn Marinan, Communications, 612-348-5969
Linda Koutsky, Hennepin History Museum, 612-597-3636

“Hennepin History Museum: Celebrating 80 years” on display in Hennepin Gallery through August 16

The Hennepin Gallery exhibit of photos, artifacts, and archival items, from the Hennepin History Museum’s collection, shows the diverse history of Hennepin County. All seven county districts are represented, such as a Robbinsdale mail stamp box, Hopkins Minneapolis Moline booklet, Excelsior Gideon Farm bell, Champlin brochure, Bloomington Mall of America grand opening poster, Northrup King lawn spreader, Foshay Tower sheet music, pharmacy bottles, a coffee roaster, and more.

History of the museum:

On April 11, 1938, a group of residents interested in the preservation of local history gathered in the Hennepin County Commissioners’ chambers to discuss the creation of a new organization. “One of the main objects of the proposed society should,” they agreed, “be to obtain pioneer specimens now as the pioneers of Hennepin County were rapidly passing away.” The Hennepin County Board was happy to help; the County had been given a $60,000 Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant for the specific purpose of collecting historical material, and the Commissioners supported using the funds to staff the new historic society and museum. (Hennepin County still supports the museum; the County provides approximately 45% of the annual operating budget, with individuals, corporations, and foundations providing the bulk of the remainder.)

In addition to collecting historic items relating to Hennepin County’s past, the museum’s early leaders focused on sharing history with the public. “From the beginning the Society has endeavored to make the Museum an educational force,” says one of earliest brochures. Shortly after opening, the museum published Bohemian Flats, written by WPA writers and sponsored by the museum. This book is still in print today.

In 1938, the new Hennepin County Historical Society opened in one large “display room” on the second floor of Oak Hill School in St. Louis Park. Within months, the museum had taken over the entire second floor. Historic treasures from the county’s past flowed into to the newly formed museum, and in 1939 organizers reported that the collection “cannot be adequately shown to the public on account of lack of space and proper display conditions.” In 1944, the museum moved to a new home, this time located at 1516 Harmon Place in Loring Park.  In 1958, the museum moved into its current home. 2303 Third Avenue South, the former residence of philanthropist Carolyn McKnight Christian, was selected for its size, its fire-resistant materials, and adequate parking.

The museum’s first magazine, then a quarterly bulletin, was published in April 1941, and today is one of the longest continuing historic publications in the state. Hennepin History has published articles on hundreds of local history topics. A commitment to telling the full story of Hennepin County has long been part of the museum’s mission. In 1991, for example, the museum became one of (and possibly the) first local history organizations in the nation to publish an article about local LGBTQ history.

That same year, following extensive community research, Hennepin County Historical Society changed its name to Hennepin History Museum. While the name may have changed, the commitment to preserving and sharing the history of Hennepin County remained the same.

2018 museum programming:

For 2018, the museum selected “why do people collect?” for its anniversary theme. Throughout the year, the museum is delving deep into this theme through a year’s worth of programs and exhibitions, including a behind-the-scenes “visible storage” laboratory-turned-gallery. Here, visitors can watch as museum volunteers and staff conduct an exhaustive inventory of its collection, and observe as tens of thousands of historic artifacts are recorded, photographed, and entered into a searchable database.

Exhibit hours:

The Hennepin Gallery is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Hennepin County Government Center, A-level, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis.

The exhibit is sponsored by and the gallery is a project of Hennepin County Communications. 


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