Tour of Wright County Heritage Center, Buffalo, Minnesota
April 7, 2008
Sally Macnab conducted a tour of the Wright County Heritage Center for 15 members of the Annandale History Club. Sally Macnab, the first Wright County Historical Society business manager, has been in the new position for one year. Sally introduced Betty Dircks, Wright County historian and the Historical Society archivist for 19 years, and Erin Storc, the Historical Society curator for two years. Sally also mentioned that two members of the Annandale History Club, Ken Rudolph and Karen Christofferson, currently serve on the Wright County Historical Society board of directors.
The Wright County Historical Society was started in 1942 and incorporated in 1967 by people passionate about the history of the county. The first museum was in the Welch House next to the Courthouse in downtown Buffalo. In 1991 the Historical Society moved to a new building at 2001 Highway 25 called the Heritage Center. This building consisted of the Entry Gallery and Main Gallery. In 1993 the archives and collection areas were built. An office wing was added in 2000. In 2004 a meeting room and the 3,000 foot Rural Life Gallery were added. Today the Historical Society facility is 20,000 sq. ft. with 8,000 sq. ft. on display. All areas except the meeting room and the Rural Life Gallery are climate controlled with humidity kept at 47-50% to protect the artifacts. A log cabin, Chatham Town Hall and agriculture building (pole barn full of farm machinery, an early ambulance, and other large items) are also on the campus. There are also three historical buildings (Welker School and two log cabins) located at the Wright County Fairgrounds at Howard Lake, which are open and staffed by WCHS volunteers during the fair.
The Wright County Historical Society is funded by Wright County, donations and yearly memberships ($15 family/individual, $5 student and $25 business memberships). The Wright County Historical Society is a 501c(3) non-profit organization whose purpose is the location, discovery, collection and preservation of historical artifacts and records and the dissemination of knowledge about the history of Wright County and its relationship to the State of Minnesota. Donations are 100% deductible. The Wright County Society website is www.wrighthistory.org. Among the programs offered at the museum are Children's Day and a yearly tractor program with a different tractor brand presented each year.
The tour started in the Entry Gallery. Some of the current exhibits in this gallery are a music exhibit (musical instruments, record players, radios and an early iPod); a furniture exhibit; surveyor exhibit by Ed Otto; an 1876 cannon; saw mill exhibit; WWII era souvenirs; Indian artifacts; Frank "Sky Pilot" Higgins personal library with photos and memorabilia; and a Wright County Courthouse exhibit with photos and paintings of the 1877-1959 Wright County Courthouse. The gift shop is also in the Entry Gallery. Many interesting books about the history of Wright County are sold in the gift shop.
The Main Gallery has a farm exhibit featuring autumn chores. The farm exhibit will focus on a different season each year. The dairy exhibit has a cream separator among the many artifacts. There is also a creamery exhibit.
An old projector from the Buffalo Cinema is used to show historical photos and aerial photos of the City of Buffalo. This is part of an Eagle Scout project by Alexander Weeks to photograph Buffalo and compare the current photos of businesses and the physical landscape with photos from the archives. It is hoped that this project can eventually be expanded to every town in Wright County.
The Hubert Humphrey exhibit includes his restored 1926 Model T, campaign buttons, and many photos. Hubert H. Humphrey (1911-1978) was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945 and 1947, the first Democratic U.S. Senator from Minnesota in 1948, 1954, and 1960, and was Vice President of the United States 1964-1968 during the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Hubert and Muriel Humphrey had a home on Waverly Lake.
There is a maple syrup exhibit including a sorghum press. A country store exhibit is being developed.
The Nelsonian is a one-of-a-kind 32-piece one-man band. It is displayed in the Main Gallery with the truck used to transport it. The sides of the truck opened up to expose the one-man band machine. A tent extended from the side of the truck to provide shelter for the audience. The Nelsonian was built and played by Albert Nelson (1884-1964) of Buffalo. Albert Nelson started building it in 1915 when the cello player in his band repeatedly failed to show up. The first instruments were a cello and violin. It includes a snare drum that works with a door bell. A time line will be added to the exhibit with pictures of the different stages of the Nelsonian. By 1957 the Nelsonian included 32 instruments, had 5,000 ft. of rubber tubing, 50,000 parts, and weighed 2,600 lbs. Nelson was a mechanical and musical genius. There is no manual for how to fix the Nelsonian. For every hour Nelson played the Nelsonian, he spent several hours fixing it.
Nelson toured with his one-man band from 1915 until almost 1960. For part of that time, Nelson traveled with the Jay Gould Circus. Nelson charged people to hear him play. A replica of the ticket booth was built to go along with the exhibit and a glass enclosure has been placed around the Nelsonian in the Main Gallery of the Heritage Center.
The Nelsonian was at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium. The Smithsonian wanted the Nelsonian, but Nelson's family requested it be kept in Buffalo. There are recordings of Albert Nelson playing the Nelsonian. Albert Nelson's great-nephew, Gary Hukriede, wrote a book about Albert Nelson and the Nelsonian. He interviewed many people who remembered Nelson's playing. Some said that his whole body moved while playing the Nelsonian. Hukriede's book, The Mighty Nelsonian, can be purchased at the Heritage Center.
The Rural Life Gallery is not humidity controlled. It is used to display large items such as tractors and steam engines. A resort exhibit, including photos of Annandale area resorts, is among the displays in the Rural Life Gallery.
Curator Erin Storc is responsible for collecting, preserving and protecting artifacts and creating exhibits in the 8,000 sq. ft. of display space at the Heritage Center. Several new exhibits have been completed by Erin and museum volunteers and more exhibits are planned or already underway.
Archivist Betty Dircks told about the 80,000 plus records that are available in the Heritage Center library, among them microfilm of all Wright County newspapers up to 2005, Wright County census records, birth & marriage records up to 1950, plat maps (earliest 1879), cemetery indexes, and probate records. There are many family histories. Donations of family histories, even short ones, are welcome. There are genealogy files where volunteers clip articles from old and current newspapers and file them by surname. Copies are 25 cents per page. There is no charge for admission to the museum or to do research at the library.
Reserved for Wright County Historical Society members are two computers with Ancestry.com (census for whole U.S., Social Security death index, and other records) and GenLine.com (Swedish data base and church records). The library also has the PRDH data base (births, marriages, deaths in Quebec) and the Latter Day Saints genealogy documentation available for research.
The staff members at WCHS are currently working on the Minnesota Sesquicentennial celebration (150th anniversary of statehood) to be held May 3, 2008. Minnesota became the 32nd state May 11, 1858. The Annandale History Club nominated Ken Rudolph to represent Annandale and South Haven on an honorary Sesquicentennial committee. Ruben Bonk is the chairman of the honorary committee made up of people who best represent their Wright County communities.
The Annandale History Club members very much enjoyed their visit to the Heritage Center and thank the Wright County Historical Society staff for meeting with us.
Notes by Secretary
Annandale History Club