Preservation of local history has always been a struggle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 7, 2002

&uot;If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.&uot; This was the response I used to hear when I’d begin a sentence, &uot;I wish…&uot; However, I didn’t believe that wishes came true because I rubbed on a lamp, or that if I waited long enough, good things would happen.

When I was little, Sunday School students in my church were given awards for perfect attendance. One year I received a plaque that was immediately hung on the wall in my bedroom. It read, &uot;All things are possible to him that believeth.&uot; Mark 9:23. I read it every morning when I awoke, every evening before I turned out the lights, and whenever my eyes would fall on it during the day; and that was often, because my room was my haven &045; the place where I read, and drew pictures, and played school, and dreamed.

I interpreted that verse to mean, &uot;If you work hard enough, believe strongly enough, and steer in the right direction, your dreams (your wishes) can come true. Somewhere along the path, you may change your mind, and often life interferes and leads you in another direction, and that’s OK. But you never would have known what you now know, if you were not headed in that direction.&uot; That seems to be a rather complicated way of saying, &uot;Never give in. Never, never, never,&uot; which is the oft repeated theme of a speech that Winston Churchill gave to the Harrow School graduating class on Oct. 29, 1941.

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What I am trying to say is &045; from the very beginning of recorded history by the first white settlers in Freeborn County, the preservation of our history has been a struggle.

It was July 12, 1875, when the first group gathered to form the Old Settlers Association.

Made up of original Freeborn County pioneers, they recognized the need to preserve and share the stories of those early triumphs and difficulties.For several years they held annual celebrations including picnics, parades, speeches and even a visit by Col. Albert Miller Lea.

After 1882, enthusiasm dwindled, and on Aug. 19, 1889, another group was formed, the Territorial Pioneers. They held their first meeting in the Knights of Pythias Hall at 202 S. Broadway Ave. Thanks to this group, in 1909 the Ole and Astri Livdalen cabin was moved from its original site southeast of Albert Lea to the north side of the fairgrounds. This cabin (probably the first cabin built in Freeborn County) is still standing in the historical village just west of the museum building.

Interest in the Territorial Pioneers also faded, and it wasn’t until the 1930s when L.W. Spicer, J.E. Murtaugh and others began promoting a permanent collection and home for Freeborn County’s history. The Freeborn County Historical Society was formed in 1948, began displaying artifacts in a room in the court house basement in 1956, incorporated in 1959, began construction of the museum on Bridge Avenue in 1965, and held its grand opening in May1968.

Since that time, more buildings have been added to the historical village, an addition was put on the museum, the red building was erected with two later additions, museum hours grew from summer weekends to year round, services expanded, memberships increased, activities multiplied, and staff grew from occasional dedicated volunteers to six and one half permanent persons and about 75 volunteers.

All of this has happened because somebody didn’t give up. Someone knew what direction was the right direction, and they struggled through the difficult times and celebrated the good. They believed in their dreams, and they worked to achieve their wishes.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity. He had offended Zeus, the most powerful god, and Zeus had a non-forgiving nature. Thus, for all we know, Sisyphus is still pushing that rock uphill. Each time he almost reaches the summit, the rock rolls back to the bottom and he has to start over.

Sometimes, we feel like Sisyphus. It seems that historic preservation is an eternal struggle, with two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes one step forward and two steps back. When the museum has enough money to meet daily operational expenses then a major upkeep cost arises. Although a large donation has been received for the much needed building addition, there’s not enough money for operating. A major collection was donated that is sure to attract visitors, but there’s no room to display the pieces.

In this column I’ve wandered around through ancient history and local history to remind you that history has always been with us and always will be. I believe that the museum’s survival depends on wishers and dreamers, hard workers, and determined people who &uot;Never give in. Never, never, never.&uot;

Bev Jackson is the executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum.