From left: Deb Wray, Jacob Bauer and Craig Welsh set up a display case in the new hall.
From left: Deb Wray, Jacob Bauer and Craig Welsh set up a display case in the new hall.
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On April 4, members of the Houston County Historical Society began moving display cases and antiques into their new museum building in Caledonia (adjoining the Houston County Fairgrounds).

The 10,620 sq. ft. structure quickly swallowed the contents of the previous museum's display area with a vast amount of space left over for additional treasures.

That's a good thing, since the society has a huge amount of artifacts in storage!

The building will feature a series of permanent and constantly changing displays, so visitors from far and wide can always find something new to see.

One section has even been set aside for interactive "hands on" activities and events.

"We have so many beautiful artifacts we wish to showcase and want to use as educational tools. Visitors will get a better feel for Houston County's history, and we will be able to have more hands-on experiences for kids. If there's anything I don't like, it's the message, 'Don't touch,'" society President Shirley Johnson said.

Caledonia Lumber Company employees and volunteers carefully disassembled the cases, setting them up in the brightly lit exhibit area.

The fruition of this project and all its planning, soliciting and work literally brought Johnson to tears as she watched volunteers carry over century-old oak cabinets from the bowels of the old museum up into the bright, new facility.

"There's been phenomenal support from all of Houston County. I can't begin to express the society's gratitude for all the support. It's just been a phenomenal experience," Johnson said.

Up until this point, no money has been borrowed for the $1.2 million project.

On the southeastern end of the building, a cigar-store Indian stood guard, at least for the moment. That entryway will soon feature a welcome center and gift shop.

The next area will include a permanent "timeline" display based on geologic, Native American and historic information.

Through a doorway to the right, the main hall beckoned. Besides the interactive area and changing exhibits, a complete restoration of the Palen Photo Studio is planned.

A climate controlled storage room lies on the north end. It's already packed with boxes containing clothing from yesteryear.

"The main thing was we wanted to be able to tell the story of Houston County in a better way. We tried to keep it so people could really feel like they're part of this," Johnson said.

The land for the expansion was purchased in 1998. Contractor Peter Nelson completed the preliminary plans the following year, based on sketches originally prepared by Karen Fried of Spring Grove. Engineering plans were switched to a Winona Architectural firm after Nelson suddenly passed away.

A capital fund campaign to raise money for the building began in 2003. Construction began in November of 2009.

The historical society continues to work through this time of transition but will keep the museum open. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Appointments can be made at 507-725-3884 and tours are welcome.