Historical Society

Chaska Historical Society Director Lisa Oberski pulls out a scrapbook of the Chaska Federated Women’s Club in the storage area of the Chaska History Center, located in a restored 1890 livery stable.

The Chanhassen Historical Society wants to move into the Old Village Hall in downtown Chanhassen. After being leased for many years, the building is now available.

Here’s an overview of how other cities work with their local historical societies.

Valuing history

Lisa Oberski, president of the Chaska Historical Society, credits many in the community, but is especially grateful to Tracy Swanson and Bob Roepke for their leadership roles in its growth and success.

“When they each served as mayors, their support reflected the city’s values,” Oberski said. “It was an agreement by the city that history is important, and Chaska’s history as a community is important. The thinking was, ‘You need to know your past to create your future.’”In the 1980s, the historical society was located in the second and third floors of a historic downtown mansion, owned by the city.When the city purchased and restored a historic livery stable next to city hall in 2002, the historical society raised $50,000 to help refurbish the building, along with the Lions Club and other donors. The main tenant was the Chaska Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s regular business hours helped to raise the visibility and accessibility of the history center and its exhibits. Later, when the local chambers consolidated, the historical society took over the entire facility.The city covers the rent, building maintenance, and utilities including internet, and provides basic computer maintenance.”We cover our insurance on all of our collections and liability insurance” Oberski said. “And we cover anything we need or do from new computers, office supplies, archival-safe materials, and file cabinets for storage.”We are always grateful to the city for the support,” Oberski said. “We also have a lot of support from the Lions. The city and Lions are our No. 1 and No. 2 reasons for survival, and our membership.Other historical societies often ask how Chaska managed to get such a great museum and office. “We’re lucky,” Oberski said. “And with the space, we’re able to do more projects, and with more projects, we’re able to keep our volunteers. It’s (history) valued here. As long as it’s valued, it will be supported.”

Preserving history

The Eden Prairie Historical Society was founded in 1969 by Helen Holden Anderson, who also wrote “Eden Prairie: The First One Hundred Years.”

Kathie Case is the current president; the EHS has 15 board members and 124 members. It is self-funded, raising money for its programs through membership dues, fundraisers, grants and donation.

The EHS has a history center and museum in the lower level of Eden Prairie City Center, which it uses for no charge.

The EHS works with the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and the city of Eden Prairie to safeguard its historic sites and history.

In 1979, the city purchased the historic Cummins-Phipps-Grill home at 13600 Pioneer Trail and leases it to the EHS for $1 a year. The EHS covers the cost of the utilities, and over the years, in partnership with the city, the EHS has renovated and restored the home.

“If the home has a structural issue, the city takes care of that,” Case said, with the EHS taking care of restoring the former family living space. Over the years, the EHS has restored the wallpaper, remodeled the bathroom to make it ADA accessible, and restored the original wall stenciling.

There had been resistance to saving the home initially, Case said. “There were people who wanted to tear it down.”

By enabling the EHS to lease the Cummins-Phipps-Grill home for a nominal sum and acting as its caretaker, “It was a way to save the house,” Case said. Over the years, the EHS has had fundraisers, applied for grants and, most importantly, opened the historic home to the public. Doing so has raised awareness of the home’s history, Case said, and the restoration has made it an asset, not only for the historical society’s use, but also an attractive and functional venue for the public to rent.

ELMHS taps history

Last year, the Excelsior/Lake Minnetonka Historical Society took a big step and hired a part-time executive director. Until then, it was like other area historical societies, relying solely on its board and volunteers to keep programming and fundraising on track.

“The ELMHS board decided to move proactively so that we could realize our dreams for the organization and up our professional standards,” said ELMHS Board Member Lisa Stevens, “to be the best that we can be ... We had a healthy fund balance and decided that we could spend some of it while we tested other revenue streams (increased membership and individual giving campaigns, paid summer programs, increased goals for fundraisers, etc.) to pay for the position.”

According to Rachel Houck, executive director, the ELMHS has a 100-year lease of a $1 for the old Minneapolis & St. Louis Depot on Water Street and leases a basement office in the old Excelsior School House building for $400 a month.

ELMHS has always given public programs at least once or twice a year at churches, schools, Southshore Center and elsewhere since being founded in 1972. But beginning in 2013, it freshened up the format with its monthly series “Tapping History.”

Tapping History moved to the Excelsior Brewing Company in the fall 2014, but has now outgrown the location, with several of its programs attracting more than 200 people, according to Stevens. “Tapping History has been great in that the presenters are sometimes authors or other ‘experts’ and sometimes passionate amateurs who just love the history of a particular topic and have a burning desire to share it with others. That keeps it timely and interesting.”

Tonka Toys and more

The Westonka Historical Society has a lot to brag about — Kevin Sorbo, star of the TV series “Hercules,” the Andrew Sisters, Tonka Toys, and the American Indian mounds for which the city of Mound is named.

The WHS was founded in 1972 and has its museum in Mound. The building is owned by the city of Mound, which covers the rent; WHS pays monthly operating expenses.

In addition to the museum being open to the public 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays throughout the year, it also hosts events including monthly history presentations at Lake Minnetonka Shores; presents quarterly history presentations at Back Channel Brewing Company; conducts its annual Spirit of the Lakes history boat tour by area historian, and current WHS President Jeff Magnuson; has a history video library at YouTube.com; and exhibits from each of the five cities, including the second largest Tonka Toys display in the U.S., and an interactive computer display of Native American mounds.


Unsie Zuege is an award-winning multimedia journalist, who enjoys community journalism, bibimbop, Netflix, Trivia Mafia and snuggling tiny dogs, not necessarily in that order.


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