HISTORY OF HENNEPINArtifacts and archival materials fill the sprawling 44-room George Christian mansion
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum
By Tammy Galvin
The Hennepin History Museum—one of the Twin Cities’ most unique social history museums—sits quietly in the Whittier neighborhood a mere block away from the much more famous Minneapolis Institute of Art. While Mia attracts visitors with its old and new art from around the world, the Hennepin History Museum's focus on the locals and their legacy makes it one of the best ways to get at the heart of the Twin Cities.
Founded in 1938 as the Hennepin County Historical Society, Hennepin History Museum is dedicated to bringing the diverse history of Hennepin County—the largest in Minnesota—and its residents to life through exhibitions, library, collections and educational programs.
With archival collections of priceless scholarly value and unique exhibits bundled in a historic mansion setting, the museum is a rare find, having evolved from the Hennepin County Territorial Pioneers Association in 1858 to the County Historical Society in 1938 to today's award-winning history museum embracing a diverse range of cultures and social histories.
The exhibition and education programs have expanded from an original focus on Hennepin County settlers to include the wide range of people who constitute the county today. As one of Minnesota’s most rapidly growing and diverse counties, Hennepin includes urban, suburban and rural communities, and all of these stories are featured in the exhibits, library and outreach programs at the museum.
Running through Feb. 25, the current exhibit—Eat Street at 20—chronicles the development of the aptly named 17-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue that is home to 50-plus ethnically diverse restaurants. Based on an oral history project by Spotlight Oral History and the Whittier Alliance, the exhibit chronicles the street’s evolution and the men and women involved in building the establishments, along with photos and cooking instruments from the restaurants themselves, providing visitors insight to the different styles and techniques of cooking used around the world.
In addition to the rotating exhibits, visit the museum’s library, known as the “Reading Room.”
There, you can peruse diaries, journals, manuscripts, letters, scrapbooks, atlases, maps, correspondence and various ephemera including menus, contracts, advertisements, deeds and certificates, sheet music, postcards, posters, broadsides, invitations, and calling cards—all of which illustrates life in Hennepin County.
Photographs make up a significant portion of the collections and include the Confer Real Estate photos, detailing views of properties sold by the company from 1915-1940. Other notable photo collections include the St. Anthony Falls Water Power Co., detailing riverfront development from 1895-1906; The Kjorlie photos, illustrating Minneapolis and St. Paul during the late 1930s and 1940s; Minnesota Volunteers 1861-1866, from the Whitney Negatives; and the Arthur Adams lantern slide collection of Minnesota images, circa 1920s.
The Reading Room is open Tuesdays through Saturdays during regular museum hours, and an archivist is available to assist researchers Tuesdays through Thursdays. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors/students and free for 6 and under. Please note that visiting the museum at this time does require the use of stairs.