The Little Falls home of Charles A. Lindbergh - who made the first solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927 and became the world's biggest instant celebrity - is in jeopardy of being closed
The Minnesota Historical Society announced Thursday that it plans layoffs and to close three historic sites, including the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site, because of expected state budget cuts and the recession.
Lory Sutton, spokesperson for the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, said Friday it receives 63 percent of its funding from the state and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget plan calls for a 15 percent cut in the society's operating budget. Sutton said if the reductions are approved by the Legislature in late May, the three historical sites would close July 1. The other two historic sites targeted for closure are the Historic Forestville in Preston and the North West Company Fur Post in Pine City.
The Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site is one of three historic sites in the state in jeopardy of being closed down July 1. The Minnesota Historical Society is planing layoffs and closing the historic sites because of expected state budget cuts and the recession. Brainerd Dispatch » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The society said 94 full- and part-time employees would be laid off and an additional 223 employees would have their hours reduced. Combined, the cuts would affect 46 percent of the society's employees. In Little Falls alone, two full-time and eight part-time/seasonal employees would be affected. The full-time employees are Charlie Paulter, director at Lindbergh, and Melissa Peterson, site supervisor. Paulter could not be reached for comments and Peterson referred all comments to Sutton.
Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, who also is the city's tourism director, said, "We won't let it go down without a fight. This (the Lindbergh site) is our livelihood during the summer and we need to preserve it, otherwise the community will suffer. If it sits empty it will deteriorate."
VanRisseghem said she doesn't understand why the society would want to close the Lindbergh site, especially after there was about $2 million of renovations put into it. She also said, "This site gets more international visitors than any other historic site. People come from Germany, Japan, you name it and they've been here."
Sutton said there are 26 state historic sites and the three sites that may close were chosen because they had the lowest attendance rates. Lindbergh's annual attendance is 9,726, the lowest attendance of the three sites listed to be closed.
Sutton said the state would save about $154,000 a year by closing the Lindbergh site.
Sutton said if the cuts are approved, the society would preserve and care for the sites that would be closed to the public. Sutton said the society would spend a year working with local community members to find creative solutions on how to keep the sites open. Sutton said the society could partner with local organizations or the state park in Little Falls to see if they could come up with a plan to keep the historic site open.
"If we find no solution ... all the artifacts would be cataloged and transported to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul," said Sutton. "This is where all the collections are held. The buildings would stay shut down, but we'd care for them."
In the Lindbergh house, there is a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, the aircraft that "Lucky Lindy" flew for 33-1/2 hours when he became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean alone by plane. A brief movie provides an overview of the life of the aviator who later became an active environmentalist. The home features the original family furnishings and artifacts and there are guided tours that recount boyhood stories that Lindbergh shared with the Minnesota Historical Society before his death in 1974.
Larry Sharon, president of the Friends of the Lindbergh Heritage, said, "This is unfortunate. We knew (cuts were being considered), but not to the extent of being shut down. We thought it'd be that we'd only be open for like three days a week. The news was a total shock and now people in the community are working frantically to try to formulate a plan.
"This site is so important to Little Falls' tourism."
Sharon said Peterson initiated a curriculum at the historic site that meets the state high school graduation standards for students. Sharon said last year between 2,500-3,000 students from around the state went through the program and the site is booked this May with even more school groups.
"This program not only educates school kids, but adults can learn from it as well. ... I'd hate to see it end," said Sharon. "This type of program is what the state's vision has been, what happened to this vision?"
Debora Boelz, chief executive officer of the Little Falls Chamber of Commerce, said she was disappointed that the Lindbergh home, a home that is held dear to many, made the list to be shut down.
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