Dave Foster of Spring Valley, descendant of one of the founders of Forestville, skims through a book in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Library in St. Paul as part of the Friends of Forestville's "Behind the Scenes" museum tour.  MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Dave Foster of Spring Valley, descendant of one of the founders of Forestville, skims through a book in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Library in St. Paul as part of the Friends of Forestville's "Behind the Scenes" museum tour. MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
The Friends of Forestville have gained a new appreciation for the expertise used by the Minnesota Historical Society staff in caring for the 9,169 objects once housed at the Historic Forestville site near Preston. A "behind the scenes" tour of the St. Paul museum on Friday, Sept. 13, surpassed expectations of the 40 visitors from southeastern Minnesota.

Karen Humphrey, certified fund raising executive for individual and family philanthropy, greeted those "good old friends and good new friends" who had taken the bus trip to the History Center. She questioned, "How could you leave southeastern Minnesota on such a gorgeous day to come here?"

Gary Edland of Grand Meadow responded, "It'll be there when we get back!"

The idea of things "being there" was on the minds of the Friends of Forestville because so many of the Meighen family belongings and the contents of the store had been removed from Historic Forestville when the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) took an active role in helping preserve and restore the site.

Stephen Elliott, the director and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Historical Society, addressed the Friends as well, thanking them for joining together with the historical society as "stewards with us of a unique historic site."

Elliott spoke of the importance of not only preserving information about important people, but also the need for telling the story of the lives of everyday people in ways that are meaningful. He went on to share his insights of his own personal tour of Historic Forestville and how impressed he was. He said, "The staff did an exceptional job, engaging every member of the group into the story."

The Historic Forestville Endowment Fund was introduced and a brochure of Minnesota's amazing pioneer site, which explained the endowment fund, was made available. Part of it reads, "Richard DeLeo, a longtime friend of Minnesota Historical Society and Historic Forestville, pledged a gift shortly before his death in 2012. Dick wanted the gift to be used as a challenge to build an endowed fund for Historic Forestville......Until Dec. 31, 2014, every $2 in current gifts received for the endowment will be matched with $1 from the DeLeo pledge."

Elliott spoke with great reverence of DeLeo and the opportunity he was offering by the endowment. "Anyone who knew Dick was aware of his great affection for Minnesota Historical Sites and especially Historic Forestville. I think you know you were his favorite child," he said.

DeLeo would recommend to everybody that they should go to Forestville because it is special!

MHS senior curator Adam Scher's enthusiasm poured out as he exclaimed, "You are in for a treat. A tour has been prepared for you that will pull back the curtain and you will get a chance to see what the public doesn't get to see!"

Scher spoke of the importance of not only preserving and sharing an object but in having a tremendous opportunity to take objects and make them come alive. "We are stewards and education is at the heart of what we do along with collecting and preserving," he added.

The kinds of items that have been collected by the Minnesota Historical Society have changed throughout the years. Scher said that some of their goals are to allow a glimpse of what it's like to grow up in Minnesota as well as to allow each site to be a canvas in which visitors feel the life of Minnesota. "There is no other place in Minnesota like Historic Forestville," he added. "It's like a time capsule."

The large tour group was broken into smaller groups to allow an opportunity for a more meaningful inspection of documents and artifacts displayed in visually appealing ways.

In the library, Dean Hamlin of LeRoy showed his daughter, Cindy, items with their relatives' names. "It was nice to be able to see some of the items from the Forestville Store," said Hamlin. "My mother knew someone with a key to the store so I had the opportunity on several occasions to go inside the store as a child when it was still full."

Rows upon rows and columns reaching great heights allowed the Friends of Forestville to gain an understanding of why so many of the items from their site are kept in St. Paul. Perhaps someday a visitor's museum will be a part of the Historic Forestville experience.

In each area the groups toured, the detail to light, temperature and humidity control was emphasized. Employees of MHS explained their areas of expertise and invited everyone to examine items and ask questions.

James Engesser of Spring Valley commented, "Like our Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum and Laura Ingalls Wilder site, everything was inventoried and the information about artifacts was presented in interesting ways. It was so much bigger than I had imagined. (It was) like a collage of Minnesota history. Plus the meal that we got to eat was a great combination of fancy and filling!"

One collection that MHS is particularly known for is its underwear collection. Seeing the Munsingwear factory weaving machine and hearing Tom Braun, the objects conservator, explain the process of "not just preserving the item but preserving the story the object tells" was fascinating.

Not only were the Meighen artifacts available for viewing but many of the other 26 historic sites' items were seen when the group joined back together after lunch and drove to 1500 Mississippi. After a leisurely stroll around this huge warehouse-like building, several "Forestville items" were shown and a synopsis of a permanent collections (as of 2013) document was presented. The list includes 2,321 3-D objects and textiles. Of those, 188 are at the History Center and 6,560 are located at 1500 Mississippi.

Curt and Kim Schumacher of Rochester were on the tour and very impressed with the entire day. Curt remarked, "I wasn't sure what to expect as we made our way to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul with the Friends of Forestville, but I came away pleasantly surprised. It isn't just a place full of old stuff...it is people who care as much as we do about our treasures and making sure they, and their stories, are around for generations to come. My thanks to everyone who helped make this trip happen."

John Crippen, MHS director of historic sites and museums, emphasized the importance of Historic Forestville to all of Minnesota. "We have a collection which means a lot to Minnesota people," he said. "It has been good for our staff to hear you interacting with each other as you tour and to see your concerns erased as you see where Forestville's objects are and the care they are given. This may be something we can do again, if there is an interest."

It seems that once a person tours Historic Forestville there is always an interest in it. The site has changed over the years as witnessed by Luther Thompson of Rochester who, at age 90, was able to revisit the site on Sept. 21, with his nephews, Russ Hoag and Scott Hoag.

Thompson mentioned, "After working 15 years as a historic site manager who retired at age 65 in 1987, I was treated to a visit by two nephews and had a wonderful day seeing the latest improvements (which are many). We were the guest of Jette Berkin, who recreates Martha Meighen, one of the daughters of Felix Meighen, a pioneer settler and merchant. In a marvelous tour of the premises, I was pleased to see the many improvements that have been made since I started there in 1972. The large kitchen has a wood cook stove, which could prepare family style meals, with appropriate cooking utensils. Walls have retained fragments of wallpaper that have been repapered with carefully chosen designs which reflect the hospitality of the 19th century. I hope I'll be able to visit again."

Russ Hoag now living in France added, "Speaking for my brother, Scott, and myself, we were thrilled to revisit Forestville after 40 years. I worked there the summer of 1978 as an assistant to Luther. I showed the general store and told a little of the history of the place. So much has been done toward recreating an authentic recreation of the epoch. Mary had the wood stove going strong and we enjoyed a little taste of the past with the jolly chef. The staff are all well informed and have good ideas for the future development of the site. I hope to see their ideas come to fruition and can experience them in the future. Thank you all for a wonderful day."

Every person who crosses the bridge and enters the uniqueness found at Historic Forestville finds a personal experience to cherish. The endowment fund is an opportunity to offer help that reaches beyond today.

Site supervisor Sandy Scheevel, who began working at Historic Forestville as an interpreter and has helped the program to develop throughout the years said, "One of the most important reasons for us to meet this challenge of this Historic Forestville Endowment is to be able to continue sharing history with our youth. Children are our future and they need to know their past."

Karen Humphrey who had helped arrange and accompanied Friends of Forestville throughout the day of touring the history center offered the suggestion that an April 2014 tour could possibly be arranged. She reminded the group of the importance of getting the word out about the endowment fund and how each two dollars donated automatically becomes three dollars.

"All gifts to the Historic Forestville Endowment Fund will remain with and benefit only this site," stated Humphrey. "I hope you will make a pledge to this campaign as soon as possible. You will join others who understand that this endowment will be an important predictable source of income for programs, educational opportunities, exhibits, building projects, and other activities that all enhance the work and mission of the site."

She invited interested donors to contact her at (651) 259-3122 or karen.humphrey@mnhs.org for more information or to contact the Friends of Forestville at www.friendsofforestville.org.