Hair wreaths made from human hair, and the horseshoe shape shows that the makers, the Kumm family, made them as an adornment.  If the wreaths were made as a closed circle, they would be a memorial to someone who has died. “They would brush their hair at night, and if there was any hair that came out, they’d save it off the brush so they would have enough to keep working on their wreaths,” said Director Julie Mlinar.  Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy/Spring Valley Tribune<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
Hair wreaths made from human hair, and the horseshoe shape shows that the makers, the Kumm family, made them as an adornment. If the wreaths were made as a closed circle, they would be a memorial to someone who has died. “They would brush their hair at night, and if there was any hair that came out, they’d save it off the brush so they would have enough to keep working on their wreaths,” said Director Julie Mlinar. Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy/Spring Valley Tribune

The museums in Spring Valley are a "treasure," says Spring Valley Historical Society director Julie Mlinar, but they also require continual maintenance, which requires funds for the non-profit community organization.

Right now, the society is facing uncertainty about finishing some repairs that were slated for the church museum's roof and bell tower.

"The needs of the museum continue to be the same -- maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. With buildings that are 137 and 148 years old, that seems to always be the need, as I'm sure it has been for a long time," said Mlinar. "We continue to try and meet these needs before it's a huge problem."

The Spring Valley Area Community Foundation has offered a matching grant to help paint the bell tower of the church museum. That means the society will be seeking funds once again to match the funds from the foundation.

"After having the church museum re-roofed last summer, we needed to have the trim and bell tower re-painted, as the paint is peeling and not only not looking nice, but exposing wood that we do not want to rot," explained Mlinar. "We had done some fundraising and received a generous donation from the Osterud-Winter Trust Fund for the project, but then the history hall roof started leaking this spring, so the money set aside from our fundraising for the painting project had to be used for the roof."

The foundation has committed to give the society a matching grant for the remainder of the $2,085 needed for the project. The Class of 1948 has donated $250 to be used toward this, so the society needs to raise the remaining $750 to get the job completed.

Many minor repairs occur constantly with help from volunteers and donated time and materials. All of these repairs help to keep the value of the property maintained and a safe environment for the staff and visitors, noted Mlinar.

Of the two repair projects that are needing to be done, the shingling of the history hall will take priority since they don't want any more rain coming in the building. That project is expected to be done this week. The painting of the bell tower is hoped to be completed this fall.

Repair progress will help the society keep the buildings presentable for world travelers who choose Spring Valley as a destination. The staff tracks where visitors come from and most years they get about 45 of the 50 states and usually about 10 to 15 different countries, with the biggest Laura Ingalls Wilder fans coming from Japan.

"I just gave a tour to a lady from the United Kingdom on Sunday. She loved hearing about Spring Valley and was amazed by all the history. We hear that a lot," said Mlinar. "I hope people who visit will enjoy the wealth of information they receive and the wonderful displays of artifacts. We always strive to make every visit a pleasant experience for all ages."

Some of the more unusual exhibits on display at the Spring Valley Historical Society's museums - the Methodist Church Museum and the Washburn-Zittleman House Museum - including a sample casket with bier, a petrified cat, a barbed wire sample collection, a globe suspended on pulleys, a "permanent wave machine," an electric cure for arthritis, nose baskets for horses and circa 1964 carbohydrate supplements stored in Mystery Cave in case of a Cold War missile strike.

Also, the museums house artifacts that speak of Spring Valley's prestigious history - the cameras first manufactured by the Conley Brothers, whose inventions would later be sold to the Eastman Kodak Company, photographs of James and Richard Sears, father of and founder of Sears respectively, and endless artifacts documenting the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family as the pioneers made their way in the woods and fields of southeast Minnesota.

"I've been the historical society director now for six years and have enjoyed meeting the people who stop for a tour, the staff and the society members. Though we get visitors from around the world, it's the local people with the stories and photos of the past that are my favorites," said Mlinar. "Not growing up here, I don't always know the names of past residents but soon get to know them by the stories that are told. I also hope that everyone realizes what a treasure we have here. Most towns of this size can't begin to have the history and museum like we have. They should be very proud."

Though the hair wreaths might give visitors a permanent surprise, the museums' collections are ever-evolving, inviting return and new tourists both from afar and local. The collections continue to change a little each year as items come in. This year the museums have gotten quite a few new items and Mlinar will be working to catalog them and get them on display.

Adding to the displays that already feature a Pietenpol Air Camper, a 1874 hook and ladder and a Model A, are Everett Warren's mail carrier uniform with photo, letters from Laura Ingalls Wilder, a craft book by Rose Wilder Lane, toys, pictures and much more.

"The museum is a wonderful way to collectively preserve and share the wonderful history of the area," she pointed out. "The history and beauty aspects of the church and Washburn-Zittleman house make charming and delightful places to show the history in a natural setting. It is so important to keep the history alive for future generations so that it won't be lost and forgotten." However, doing that has become rather difficult, given that the Spring Valley Historical Society is "a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to maintain, collect and preserve the history of the area.

"We really appreciate all the time, ability, finances, and help that the members, the board and area people put into it. We know that we are indebted to them and can count on many of them to help when we need it.

"Anyone can support the museum by visiting, shopping in the gift shop, giving memorials or honorariums, volunteering, or giving financial donations."

The Spring Valley Historical Society's museums are open every day through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends in September and October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours are available then or by appointment at other times. The gift shop is also open and features many books - some written by local residents, gift items and postcards, including the society's new Spring Valley postcard. For more information, or to donate towards the museums' matching fund for roof repair, contact the Spring Valley Historical Society at 220 W. Courtland St. or call 346-7659.