1939, Fred Lawshe formed the Dakota County Historical
Society to preserve, interpret and promote the history
of Dakota County. To accomplish this mission, Fred teamed
with other individuals and groups to begin the process
of collecting, interpreting and publishing the history
of the County. Fred and the other members accumulated
over 3,000 primary source materials between 1939 and 1971.
first meeting of the 'historically minded' Dakota County
Historical and Archaeological Society was held in the
South St. Paul Public Library in April 1939. The original
purpose of the Society was to "establish a link with the
past by preserving the relics, written records, and other
material of those historic days of long ago for future
Fred Lawshe was the first president of the Society and
he lobbied long and hard to secure space for a museum.
He was the director and curator of the museum until his
death in 1971. What began as a hobby led to a full-time
passion, especially after he retired in 1958 from his
40 year job as the South St. Paul High School industrial
arts teacher. Fred Lawshe logged thousands of hours creating
exhibits, giving tours to student groups, and organizing
wasn't until 1955 that DCHS opened its first museum. The
Society first looked to open a museum in Hastings, the
county seat, but couldn't secure a location. Attempts
to place a museum in the Faribault House in Mendota also
failed. When South St. Paul decided to build a new municipal
building, the Society asked the city if it could open
a museum in the new building's basement. The city agreed.
The Society looked for a temporary home for its new museum.
Space was found in Room 308 in the South St. Paul High
School. While DCHS did own some artifacts, many of the
original exhibits were built around artifacts borrowed
from the Minnesota Historical Society.
of the advantages of being located in a high school was
that student members of Scribes, a junior historian group,
often served as museum attendants. The growth of the student
population led to the closing of the museum in the school
only a year after it had opened. On April 16, 1957, DCHS
officially opened its history museum in one room of the
South St. Paul municipal building basement. But the one
room was quickly filled with new donations and exhibits.
By 1961, the museum had over 5,000 items. Repeated requests
for additional space resulted in an expansion to another
room, then another, then across the hall until finally,
the museum filled the entire basement of the South St.
Paul city building.
1976, the Dakota County government was looking for a bicentennial
project, and the Dakota County Historical Society board
members had just the project - a new museum building.
The museum was bursting at the seams in the basement of
the city building. County commissioners finally agreed
to make a permanent history museum building their legacy,
but a debate did ensue about the building's architectural
design and its location. One was finally agreed upon,
and on December 30, 1976, one day before the bicentennial
year ended, county commissioners and DCHS board members
broke the ground for the museum.
Fred Lawshe never got to witness his dream - a museum
building - the museum was dedicated to him. The
storage area still holds numerous original paintings
and prints which Fred had created for his exhibits.
And his distinctive object labels still provide
extra information on quite a few "mystery objects".
Dakota County Historical Society continues to build
upon the efforts of Fred E. Lawshe and others who
have worked for the Society over the years. There
are now over 25,000 objects in the museum's collections
and more than 20,000 photographs. Its publishing
program, first begun in 1951 with a newsletter called
Over the Years, now creates over 100 pages
of original historical research a year. Its research
library has one of the best collections of local
history in the State.
contained on these DCHS History pages from "The Good,
the Bad, and the Tuna: A Sampling of Artifacts Collected
by the Dakota County Historical Society Since 1939", ©
1999 Dakota County Historical Society.