Museum Review: Cook County Historical Society

Posted on August 6, 2007 under minnesota, museums, museums and the web, public history

Two weeks ago, I went up to Grand Marais, on the lovely North Shore of Lake Superior (and convenient jumping-off point for a camping trip on the Gunflint Trail).

Of course we had to visit the Cook County Historical Society, headquartered in an old lighthousekeeper’s house in downtown Grand Marais.  The society and the museum are all-volunteer run, and the museum encompasses the history of the whole country, 70% of which is federal forest/lake/parkland, and which extends up to the Canadian border, though it focuses on the county’s towns:  Grand Marais, Schroder, Tofte, Lutsen.

When I walk into a small local historical society, my conservator’s brain usually starts to scream:  are those original photos on display?  what are those lace dresses doing in front of the window?  there’s condensation on the basement walls!   The CCHS was no exception, but they win points for judicious use of plexiglass and other barriers to visitors handling all their items.

Their local collections are wide ranging, from a spinning wheel brought over from Norway to a dogsled used by a rural mailman.  Interpretative labels are scarce, but exhibits on land surveying, lumber camps, the CCC, geology and shipping in the county were informative and interesting.  Native American history in the county is sadly also scarce, though the mail service exhibit includes information on John Beargrease, who delivered mail by dogsled and after whom an annual dogsled race is named.

The CCHS’s web presence is worth discussing.  They don’t have their own website (hence the lack of linkage), but they do participate in the community portal pages at boreal.org, the fab local nonprofit community ISP.  Boreal’s county history page (note that the whole site is built in drupal) links to a number of articles on county history, and also features a photo identification page, where community residents can identify people in the CCHS’s photo archives.  With these pieces around, it would be very short work to write a homepage for the museum, with hours and location and collections overview.  Lots of potential here.

3 Comments on “Museum Review: Cook County Historical Society”

  1. Please tell me the CCHS has done away with poking photos with pins in order to hang them. When we visited a number of years ago, this is what we saw and it did make me cringe, verily it did. I do understand how hard it is for a small volunteer staff to keep up with things and it is to their credit that they plug away.

  2. Suzane, thanks for the comments and suggestions for the museumm, of which I am director. We now have a new addition to the older building, with good archival storage. Things are much better! The only original photos on display are those so heavily glued as to be damaged if removed–but they are all scanned. And we now have a website that I am hoping you will visit-cookcountyhistory.org And thank you, please come back again!
    Mary, our reaction to the pins was the same as yours. Did you not notice the wonderful use of scotch tape?? Both are long long gone! But those who did use it have given us much wonderful materials also, we have a wealth of information and photographs–thanks to them!

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