Ever since Thomas Holmes sent a crew of men to build a sawmill downriver from Shakopee, the story of Jordan, Minnesota began and has since grown in countless different directions. Even before the sawmill, the land beneath the city told centuries of native history.
One-hundred and sixty-six years of Jordan history has included thousands of visitors, half a dozen generations of families, countless meaningful interactions and a legion of celebrations and struggles. That’s a lot to remember, but a small band of Jordanites are working to put those memories and records down for good.
The Jordan Area Historical Society’s mission is to discover, verify and document artifacts and other materials that tell the history of Jordan. The city has always had people who are interested in preserving the past, but a chartered historical society did not exist until 2013.
While their sources of origin are vast and diverse, most of the artifacts in the historical society’s possession come to the organization after years of storage in the historic log cabin on Water Street or the city hall basement.
The log cabin was moved to its present site in 1931 by the Jordan Commercial Club and friends of the city in order to serve as a small museum. In 1940, Gov. Harold Stassen and the Scott County commissioners dedicated the log cabin as a historical museum under the direction of the city and its park commission. Over the years, countless artifacts were stored in the cabin. But as the cabin’s condition deteriorated, many artifacts were moved to the basement of city hall.
“They were just jumbled down there. They were stored wherever there was a corner,” said historical society member Liz Thaves. “There was one display case in the basement of city hall. There were a few items displayed in there but nobody ever went down to the basement of city hall to see anything”
In 2013, after working to build a new library in Jordan, a group including Thaves and the former city administrator began exploring a historical society and a museum to house the artifacts stored underneath city hall.
Jordan officials were interested in establishing a museum since the death of Jordan resident Virginia Habegger in 2008. Habegger’s parents, Loren and Hildegarde, owned a car garage at the current location of the Jordan museum. The Habeggers were always interested in giving back to the community and Virginia, being the sole survivor of her parents, donated her estate to the establishment of a museum in Jordan, according to Thaves.
“She was the one who really wanted her stuff to go into a museum for the city,” said historical society member Bernice Hoffman. “The Habeggers had the cars and she wanted them to go to a museum in Jordan. I think that’s what pushed us and the city to have a historical society.”
Countless artifacts were donated from the estate, including four classic cars, all of which were in need of care. City staff, knowing these artifacts needed an appropriate home to be displayed, were searching for a building to establish a museum when the perfect opportunity arose — after a brutal winter, the roof on the building that formerly served as Loren Habegger’s garage collapsed.
“The city bought the building and they were going to recondition part of it,” Thaves said. “But they found out, ground-wise, it wasn’t really stable, so the building was taken down.”
Out of the ashes of what once was Habegger’s Garage, a Jordan Area Historical Society Museum was built. Two of Habegger’s cars, a 1930 Ford Model A and a 1909 Ford Model T, were refurbished and placed in the museum along with other valuable items, such as Mary Nicolin’s 1892 wedding dress. Two other cars of Habegger’s, a 1935 LaSalle and a 1940s Kaiser-Frazer are also in possession of the historical society but have yet to be displayed.
The society’s current membership is older, and while that affects productivity, they make up for it with their personal knowledge of the area and time they are documenting. Many of the members recall Loren Habegger, for example.
“Lorne was kind of a mountain of a man,” society member George Colling said. “He must have been 6-foot-2 or three. Big belly, he always wore suspenders.”
“He was always snapping his suspenders,” society member Hedy Joachim added.
“He’d ask me what my name was and I’d tell him. Then he’d say ‘Well that’s a good name for a horse.’” Thaves said. “I’d be so mad but I’d talk to him again. He did it every time. He was a character.”
In addition to items from the Habegger estate, the historical society has troves of artifacts they have yet to sort and verify. The most time-consuming task the society faces is documenting the artifacts in its possession and determining their historical merit.
“Everything has to be inventoried and cataloged.” Hoffman said. “You have to describe it; what color it is, what it’s made of, how tall, how wide, how long it is — it’s a process, and there aren’t enough of us to get it done. We’re all older, there are two of us in our 90s here. We can’t work like we did when we were 60.”
“The item’s description should be so unique that it cannot be anything else,” Colling said.
While the society has a tremendous backlog of items, new donations are continually accepted. But before donated items are cataloged they must undergo an intake process. Mervin Brenke described the routine.
“We have to get the information on the artifact to protect it, to show they’re donating it,” he said. “Then it has to go through an acceptance by us. From there, if we accept it, we catalog it.”
Following successful documentation the item is entered into the society’s computer records.
“Once it’s accepted, it gets an ID number and falls right into the system. It gets photographed and logged into the computer with a photograph attached to it,” Colling said.
Finally, items are given a unique mark in a non-visible spot and sent away to be displayed or stored for a future display. When determining what is displayed, society curators consider an item’s historical and regional relevance to Jordan. Additionally, they look for other artifacts that complement the item, so an item can be displayed in a collection with a unified theme.
Despite the tremendous amount of work society members put into the museum, the artifacts are rarely seen outside displays at the Jordan Public Library, as museum hours are scarce at best.
“If we had more help we would open the museum,” Thaves said.
At a minimum, Thaves said the museum would need two people to monitor the collection and answer questions during open hours. And members are unable to free up time to monitor an open museum because most of their time is dedicated to cataloging the society’s backlog of artifacts. Hoffman said it takes about 30 minutes to catalog one item.
“We need help, definitely need help,” Thaves said.
The society has 24 charter members, but the number of active members is closer to half that. Members pay an annual due of $25 and can participate in a variety of ways. In addition to cataloging, members are working together on additional projects like documenting the cemeteries in town and taking photographs of every building downtown, recording the business history of each building.
Brenke has been active in organizing historical “show-and-tell” get-togethers outside of the museum. At these sessions, members of the public are welcome to bring artifacts they own and talk about them. On April 25, the historical society will host a public show-and-tell session at the Jordan Library at 6:30 p.m. In the past, the society hosted a military-based show-and-tell session.