A wise decision made by local civic and business leaders in Brainerd in the early 1900s has helped preserve the history of Crow Wing County. In 1926 Mr. Leon Lum, a local attorney and active leader in Brainerd, left a sum of money in his will, requesting the organizing of a Crow Wing County Historical Society to be located in Brainerd. In 1927 local citizens filed articles of incorporation to create the society. The first board of directors included: Sam B. Adair, president; Martha A. Edson Bronson, vice president; Lucy D. Wieland, secretary; Florence Fleming, treasurer; and A. J. Forsythe, Irma C. Hartley, and Flora Elder, trustees.
The society opened the first museum in 1931 in the old county courthouse, located on Fourth Street and Kingwood. Built in the early 1800s, it is still standing as an apartment building. Later in 1931 the museum was moved to the basement of the new county courthouse where it stayed until 1982. In 1975-76 the county board decided to build a new law enforcement center and demolish the old 1917 jail. The historical society board then petitioned the county to set aside the building for a museum. The board agreed to submit the issue to the voters at the next election. The question on the ballot in November 1976 was
“When the present Crow Wing County Jail building is no longer needed as a jail facility, should the building be converted and renovated by the Historical Society to house the Crow Wing County Museum, under the condition that the County provide utilities and custodial services for the building and continue to provide the Crow Wing County Historical Society with the financial grant that it has enjoyed in previous years, provided that such additional levy shall be exempt from the penalty provisions of Minnesota Statutes Sec. 275.51, Subd. 4, in the next succeeding levy year and levy years thereafter.”
The vote was 82 percent in favor. We are pleased to say every Crow Wing County Board since 1976 has honored the intent of the vote, and has been most supportive and helpful. After the successful vote was taken, the community got behind the effort of the historical society to raise the necessary funds to remodel the building for a museum. Led by the local Rotary Club, which took this on as a special project; co-chairs for the fund drive were Dennis Johnson, John Kurtzman, and Bernie Roscoe. Appointed to head a grants and matching fund drive was Ray Madison and Ed “Tom” O’Brien. After a successful fundraiser, McDonald Construction of Brainerd was chosen as the contractor and began construction in July of 1981. The museum moved to the new location in the spring of 1982 and it was opened to the public in June. The original sheriff’s residence was preserved as well as two jail cells for display.
Because Brainerd got its start by the railroad, it is one of the main features on display as well as the logging industry, mining, native American artifacts, a Civil War display, Bataan, and thousands more. Besides the main building the historical society is also responsible for several buildings at the county fairgrounds: three log homes, an old country schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and general store. Needless to say, they also take a lot of upkeep and hours of work. The historical society and museum are operated by part-time employees and many volunteers. The society board of directors is made up of nine members from around the county, and they meet on the third Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. in the museum. The public is always welcome. We also have an annual membership dinner meeting in April of each year, and we encourage new and current members to attend.
Hours of the museum are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and most anytime for special group tours. In addition, our research library is a great source of information for county history and genealogy. We get many people from far and wide using this great source of information. Because of the vision of our civic leaders dating back to the early 1900s, we now have a very valuable asset to the whole area as well as the state. We can thank our membership, county board, several cities, townships, and civic organizations for their interest and support to preserve the more than 200 years of history pertaining to Crow Wing County and the surrounding area.
For additional information call: 218 829-3268.
DON SAMUELSON is president of the board of directors of the Crow Wing County Historical Society and former state lawmaker.