Articles of Interest
The History of a Historical Society
By Karen Schlenker, Milaca Area Historical Society
While 30 years is a very short time, even in the not-so-long history of European-American settlement of this area, it is an accomplishment when an all-volunteer organization lasts, and even thrives, that long. The Milaca Area Historical Society attained 30 years of existence at the end of May in 2014.
On May 30, 1984, a group met and paid dues to their new historical organization. Beatrice Schweiger, Stella Allen, Bonna and Reuben “Rub” Dahlstrom, Alyce Alkire, Mary Jane Bridge, Terry and Leslie Anfinson, and Julia Swalboski were the charter members of the Milaca Historical Society. The main interest of this group was genealogical research and gathering information about the community’s beginnings. The Milaca Civic Club had had a collection of historical objects since 1972, which they displayed in cases in the city hall, so there was no need for another organization to create a museum collection. The Mille Lacs County Historical Society had already been formed in Princeton, so the Milaca area group would concentrate on the midsection of the county.
The group got a boost from Milaca’s centennial celebration in 1986. There was much interest around the community in creating a history book, and the research and writing of the Milaca Centennial book drew more people to the organization. There was also an effort to locate and photograph as many paintings by early Milaca settler Harold Sirene as could be located, culminating in a display at the Milaca Depot during the festivities.
Besides their shared interest in genealogy, the Historical Society members took on other projects. In 1988, they received a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to help them purchase a microfilm reader-printer, so research in the area’s microfilmed newspapers could be done locally.
Also in 1988, some logs were discovered just upstream of the dam by Recreation Park. This was in the middle of a drought, when the river level was quite low, and Don and Tillie Pluimer saw the logs from the walking bridge. With the help of the city of Milaca and East Central Electric Association, seven oak logs were lifted from the river, and some were found to have marks stamped into their ends. Historical Society members Don Pluimer, John McClure and Rub Dahlstrom traveled to the History Center in St. Paul to research the marks. They discovered that the logs had been in the river prior to 1896, when the local planing mill, sited in what is now Recreation Park, changed ownership to Foley Bean. In 1990 the logs were put on display in front of the old city hall building (at the time the library), but exposure caused them to deteriorate so that they had to be removed prior to the museum moving into the library space in 2007.
The society carried out other projects over the years, including expanding the microfilm collection and having the Federal Arts Project murals in the old city hall professionally cleaned. But the biggest ongoing project of all came in 1995, when the Milaca Civic Club disbanded and donated its collection of historic photographs and objects to the Milaca Area Historical Society. MAHS members Julia Swalboski and John and Novella McClure painstakingly inventoried and documented each item, following standard museum procedures, and finally, in 1997, the Milaca Museum was reopened to the public under the auspices of the Milaca Area Historical Society.
In the spring of 2007, the Milaca Library moved to its new building, and the MAHS moved part of its museum display into the refurbished auditorium area. With increased visibility, membership has grown, and with increased membership, open hours have been increased.
Each season, part of the exhibit space is “refreshed” with new displays, and this year, the downstairs space features the stories of area small towns. Foreston, Bock, Pease, Long Siding and Estes Brook are joined by Tosca and Page—settlements that no longer exist. Visitors are surprised to see how many hotels, lumber yards and general stores did business in these towns.
It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t understand where you’ve been. The Milaca Area Historical Society has been gathering and preserving the stories and artifacts of where our community has been for over 30 years, offering us a better understanding of our past.