The general nature and purpose of the Society shall be the discovery, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge about the history and prehistory of St. Louis County and the State of Minnesota.
In addition to collecting and preserving objects of material culture and historical research material, the Society shall maintain and operate a museum and materially participate in the collections and operations of a historical research center adequate to serve the region encompassing St. Louis County and northeastern Minnesota.
St. Louis County, MN
Ms. Jo Anne Coombe
St. Louis County, history, historical society, veteran, veterans, military, forest, museum, Minnesota, archives, exhibit, Ojibwe, Indian, events, artifacts, research, non-profit, nonprofit, education, tiffany windows, Eastman Johnson, woodcarving, woodcarved, war, historical, historian, gallery, Duluth, Iron Range, preservation, forest, lumber, Buzz, Ryan, Melheim, Priley, painting, art, preserve, conserve, conservation, Depot, mine, mines, mining, collection, donate, donation, member, membership
506 W Michigan St
Duluth, MN 55802 USA
History Museums (A54)
Libraries, Library Science (B70)
Cultural, Ethnic Awareness (A23)
IRS Filing Requirement
This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.
How does this organization make a difference?
Self-reported by organization
As the state-designated history services provider for St. Louis County, the St. Louis County Historical Society has protected the history of northeastern Minnesota for more than 85 years. Since 1922, we have collected, preserved, and made available collections that reflect the people and cultures of our area, thereby sharing our past.
The Society introduces visitors to the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center, better known as the Depot, our home since 1976, to the region's roots by presenting the stories of exploration, immigration, and development, in our exhibits. Just a portion of the Society's efforts are represented by these exhibits. We hold in public trust thousands of museum(hours.asp) objects and tens of thousands of archival records, which can be accessed at the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center, at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Self-reported by organization
What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?
Veterans' Memorial Hall
Veterans’ Memorial Hall is a joint project of the St. Louis County Historical Society and the United States Military service veterans of northeastern Minnesota, with a mission to gather, preserve, interpret, and promote the rich and diverse human experiences of veterans, their families, and communities through museum, archival, and educational programs.
Today, the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (the Depot) is home to a program called Veterans’ Memorial Hall; it is part of the St. Louis County Historical Society. But at one time, it was separate from the Society. A hundred years ago, it was called the Soldiers Memorial Room—a misleading name, for it was really a comfortable suite of rooms for the veterans’ community—and it was situated three blocks north of its current location, on the main floor of what was then the brand new St. Louis County Courthouse.
At the turn of the 20th century, the county decided to build a courthouse that would be unrivalled in Minnesota. They hired one of the notable architects of the time, Daniel (“D.H.”) Burnham. In his drawings, one can see the plan for the rooms that were dedicated to the veterans of St. Louis County. They were built on the eastern side of the main floor. Called the Soldiers Memorial Room, this suite of rooms featured a reception room, kitchen, and library. It also included a large room with a stage. The Soldiers Memorial Room was beautifully furnished in a style consistent with the rest of the courthouse building. Chairs from the room can be found in the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center today, as can the GAR speaker’s podium and sign-in desk. Burnham’s blueprints from 1909, which were drafted on massive linen sheets, still hang in the St. Louis County Courthouse.
In the 1920s, the GAR Post decided to enhance the look of the Civic Center by installing a large new flagpole. The flagpole is referred to as the “Sailors and Soldiers Monument” and has a memorial at its base dedicated to the members of the Joshua Culver Post. It also has a statue of a knight sitting in front of the monument, which was sculpted by Paul Bartlett. It was around this time that the Room began to be universally referred to as Memorial Hall.
The Hall was used not only by the GAR but also by the United Spanish War Veterans. Eventually, the location was used by many different veteran organizations, from the Disabled American Veterans to the Veterans of the World War. Its library had many pieces of memorabilia and books from the many different wars and engagements. It displayed items such as a WWI German machine gun and a Civil War era military drum.
In 1926, the United Spanish War Veterans began operating the room. In 1954, the John McEwen Camp No. 6 of the United Spanish War Veterans celebrated their 56th anniversary in Memorial Hall.
Possibly because of the existence of the VFWs, Legions, and other veterans' organizations with their own buildings and spaces, there wasn't a need a great need for the room. Pressure to use the space for other governmental functions may also have contributed to the closing of that particular space as a Veterans' Memorial Hall.
Officially at 11:37 am on Tuesday, October 19, 1965, Memorial Hall was locked usuch as the nine Springfield rifles and a dollar given by Albert Woolson, were sent to the Twin Cities Chapter the United Spanish War Veterans. But some of the the furniture and many other items were donated to the St. Louis County Historical Society or stored.
Since then, Veterans' Memorial Hall has moved to the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (the Depot) and is maintained by the St. Louis County Historical Society and the military service veterans from the Arrowhead region. The speakers at the original dedication ceremony promised, “Your services to the country will be remembered so long as liberty is prized and the patriotic valor is remembered.” Veterans’ Memorial Hall aims to honor that statement. We have collected more than 1,500 artifacts and 6,000 veteran stories. Today, we have one of the largest collections of military items and veterans' stories in the state of Minnesota.
For much of the late 1990s and early 21st century, the Society helped develop the World War II Living History Project and the Veterans' Memorial Hall at the Center. The Veterans' Memorial Hall website went online in 2001 to chronicle the lives of northeastern Minnesota veterans of conflicts from the Civil War to the Gulf War. Dignity Thru Unity, a Vietnam War exhibit, opened in April 2004 and was recognized for excellence in 2005. The Society opened its second major Veterans’ Memorial Hall exhibit, Generations of Service, in August of 2009. The exhibit is a comprehensive tribute to veterans of all conflicts in which northeastern Minnesotans participated.
Generations of Service
The Veterans' Memorial Hall (VMH) Program of the St. Louis County Historical Society has opened a new feature exhibit. Generations of Service illuminates 150 years of U.S. military history by bringing the stories and artifacts of local service members into focus--from the rare 1818 American flag donated by Civil War POW Robert W. Mars, who settled in Duluth after the Civil War, to the backpack and dog tags donated by Mark Hilleren, who served in Iraq. Visitors encounter history through the artifacts and stories of veterans connected to northeastern Minnesota.
Upon entering the exhibit, viewers will see one of the rarest of American flags, a twenty-star American flag from 1818. Only twenty such flags are known to exist. (This flag flew over the nation for one year; at the time, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were still alive.) The flag was donated by the family of a local Civil War veteran.
Visitors will then see eight cases, each containing several items from a particular war. A Civil War bugle is on display, along with a section of an oak tree from the battlefield at Gettysburg with a bullet lodged in it. A uniform from the Spanish American war; a naval aviator helmet from World War I; a leather bomber jacket with from World War II; a yellow arrowhead-shaped patch sewn for service members in Korea; a hand grenade from Vietnam; a uniform from Desert Shield/Storm; and an MRE (meal ready to eat) from Iraq—these are only a few of the artifacts on display that tell the story of service members and their war experiences.
The exhibit is rounded out by several other displays:
- One considers the impact of war on the families on the home front. This section includes a reconstruction of the end of a mine tunnel or “drift,” reflecting the profound impact that iron ore from the Iron Range had on the U.S. ability to arm for battle in World War I and World War II.
- Another addresses the history of local Ojibwe veterans and the manner in which they are honored at powwows and in veterans’ museums.
- The unique experiences of POWs (prisoners of war) are considered; a flag from a local chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is on display.
- A case with “war souvenirs” includes a World War I airplane-mounted German machine gun.
- Local recipients of the prestigious Medal of Honor are recognized.
- Counterfeit military medals confiscated by the FBI are also on display.
- Finally, a killed in action wallbears silent witness to the terrible local losses of war: it honors the memory of more than 1,100 St. Louis County service members who died in combat, from the Civil War to the present.
Visitors are able to watch a 2.5-minute interview with a veteran. Visitors are also able to enter the story of their service or that of a loved one (if the veteran is from or now lives in northeastern Minnesota) on the website while in the exhibit.
The St. Louis County Historical Society has collected and made available on the VMH website more than 6,000 veterans’ oral histories. The Society also maintains the third largest collection of military artifacts in Minnesota and, since 1922, has been gathering military and home front archival materials. The Generations of Service exhibit features both artifacts and archives drawn from the Society's extensive collection.
Veterans' Memorial Hall wishes to thank the exhibit sponsors: the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Lake Superior College, Minnesota Historical Society, the Northland Vietnam Veterans Association, St. Louis County, United States Steel Foundation, Inc., the Wildey H. Mitchell Family Foundation, and the individual contributors who helped make it possible.
Arts, Culture & Humanities
American Indian Program
The St. Louis County Historical Society American Indian Advisory Committee seeks to develop a permanent exhibit and auxiliary educational program based in the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center that will present, Through Ojibwe Eyes & With Ojibwe Voices , the culture and heritage of the Lake Superior Ojibwe people. The exhibit will place in appropriate context the Eastman Johnson images of Minnesota Ojibwe life, and accurately portray American Indian regional history and contemporary culture.
The Society has in its collection a large number of Ojibwe artifacts. Of particular interest is an Ojibwe garment related to Johnson's Minnehaha painting. The Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis has recently assessed, conserved, and treated most of the Society's Eastman Johnson art collection.
Eastman Johnson was one of America’s finest portrait, figure, and genre scene painters. Originally from Maine, Johnson studied extensively in Europe before journeying to Superior, Wisconsin in 1856 to visit relatives.
Captivated by the area and native people, he remained through the winter of 1856-57, building a cabin and traveling the western and northern lake region. Johnson’s destinations included Grand Portage, Minnesota – a fur trading center on Lake Superior’s North Shore near the Canadian border. Johnson returned to Superior later in 1857 to create the majority of his Ojibwe artworks. During his 1856-57 stays, Johnson created numerous drawings and paintings of Superior and Grand Portage’s Ojibwe residents, preserving forever the faces and homes of Lake Superior’s native people.
After Eastman Johnson’s death in 1906, Richard Teller Crane purchased over 30 of his unsold Lake Superior Ojibwe works of 1856-1857. Crane later donated the collection to the City of Duluth, which in turn entrusted them to the St. Louis County Historical Society, where they remain in its permanent collection. The Historical Society’s single most significant collection is comprised of these artworks.
Ojibwe Faces and Stories
The Society's traveling exhibit is an eight-panel compilation of high quality reproductions of its entire Eastman Johnson collection of art work, centered on Ojibwe life, created by the artist in 1856 - 1857 while in residence here at "Head of the Lakes" (Duluth-Superior) and at Grand Portage. Each piece includes "label text" developed by Thomas O'Sullivan, former Curator of Art at Minnesota Historical Society, and approved by the Society's American Indian Advisory Committee. The original paintings, and, especially, the charcoal drawings, are fragile and can only withstand rare and carefully limited exhibition. Thus, this traveling exhibit will make the collection much more extensively available for viewing.
The extensive exhibit includes a map of the Ojibwe world of the time, of which Grand Portage was the center. The paintings and drawings are grouped together in such categories as "Ancestral Portraits", "Scenes of Everyday Life", and "Continuing Dialogue", a panel featuring photographs and quotations from contemporary Ojibwe people of this region.
Lake Superior Ojibwe Gallery: Located on the 4th floor of the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (the Depot)
The Ojibwe Gallery features the work of internationally recognized 19th century painter Eastman Johnson. The gallery is a project of the St. Louis County Historical Society, custodians of the art depicting the Ojibwe people when Johnson visited the “Head of the Lakes” in 1856 and 1857.
According to Society Executive Director JoAnne Coombe “The mandate for the gallery – conveying the voice and viewpoint of the Lake Superior Ojibwe – developed after years of collaborative discussion with a hardworking American Indian Advisory Committee - comprised of tribal appointees from the Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage Bands – and at large members of the American Indian community.” “The committee will now focus on educational programming and traveling exhibits to celebrate the Ojibwe way of life – past and present.”
The Lake Superior Ojibwe Gallery project was made possible by the support of the residents of St. Louis County and funding provided through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the JNM Gift Trust and the Depot Foundation. The Historic Union Depot Corporation and the St. Louis County Historical Society co-hosted the dedication and related activities.
Arts, Culture & Humanities
Native Americans/American Indians
St. Louis County, MN
Since 1922, St. Louis County Historical Society has protected the history of this area. The Society operates a museum, materially participates in the operations of a research archives, facilitates on-going projects and programs including the Veterans' Memorial Hall and American Indian Programs and provides operational support to six affiliates: Ely-Winton Historical Society, Hibbing Historical Society, Minnesota Museum of Mining, Sisu Heritage Inc., Tower-Soudan Historical Society and Virginia Historical Society. Donations help ensure the success and growth of the Society and projects both present and future.
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Ms. Jo Anne Coombe
Current Executive Director JoAnne Coombe began her administration of the Society in 1992, after a three-year co-administration with Maryanne Norton in the interim after Larry Sommer departed to accept a post as head of the Montana State Historical Society in Helena. Coombe presided over several major developments during the 1990s: the opening of the Forest History Gallery, the Fesler Gallery, with its Herman Melheim Collection of intricately carved furniture, and the formation of an American Indian Advisory Committee.
For much of the late 1990s and early 21st century, the Society helped develop the World War II Living History Project and the Veterans' Memorial Hall at the Center. The Veterans' Memorial Hall website went online in 2001 to chronicle the lives of northeastern Minnesota veterans of conflicts from the Civil War to the Gulf War. Dignity Thru Unity, a Vietnam War exhibit, opened in April 2004 and was recognized for excellence in 2005. The Society opened its second major Veterans' Memorial Hall exhibit, Generations of Service, in August of 2009. The exhibit is a comprehensive tribute to veterans of all conflicts in which northeastern Minnesotans participated.
Ms. Leone Graf
Sisu Heritage, Inc.
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