A portal to the past looks over a historic Dunn County valley. Perched on the hill where another generation went to school, a winding road leads to a virtual time machine of solid, tangible days gone by.
By Mike Kopp
Visitors have a choice: which way to go when they step in to the portal and each turn opens new visions of yesteryear.
Visitors who enter the Dunn County Museum are presented with a huge area of well-crafted displays. Museum staff and assistants on this journey to the past take their responsibility seriously. With daily effort, they give life to what had been dissolving in to the prairie “We’re the keepers of history. If we didn’t keep these items, people would lose a connection with their parents and grandparents. It gives people a sense of appreciation for what they have now compared to back in the ‘good ol’ days.’ ” said Susi Weisz, the Dunn County Museum Curator.
“Everything you look at brings back memories,” said Cathy Trampe, Dunn County Museum Chair.
Pull off of Highway 200 and drive north through Dunn Center, up the hill to the west and into the thorough and rich gateway to Dunn County’s story. From days of early man on the prairie, through the Wild West, through the county’s development, visitors mentally enter in to the lives of earlier generations.
Many people schedule their trip to coincide with the annual Cream Can Supper. Coming up the end of August, the event gives visitor a different taste of the past. The Cream Can Supper on August 26, is a fundraiser for the museum. The cook uses cream cans to prepare supper: a corn, cabbage, onion and sausage mix. Others bring desserts, or make ice cream on the spot while local musicians entertain.
For some, the Cream Can Supper is their first visit to the museum, but it will likely not be their last. Return visits are common because it is difficult for people to see everything in just one trip. They tell Trampe, “I don’t have as much time as I’d like to spend here. I’m going to have to come back. “
When they do return, they can see things that were not there on their first visit because the museum continues to grow, “Every time there’s a board meeting there’s always some new items to evaluate, “ said Weisz. “If we didn’t show these items, people would not have a chance to learn about the lives of their parents and grandparents.”
Trampe said, “Everyone who comes here has their own likes. Some come for the artifacts, some like the homesteader shack, some come for the church display.” Local rural churches at one time served many purposes from religious services to social gatherings, even political events were at local churches. Most of those rural country churches are gone now, but some of the beautiful items from those churches are at the Dunn County Museum, from hymnals to stained glass windows.
Trampe has her own favorite item in the multi-building collection; it’s her 1929 Nash on loan to the museum. The exquisitely restored car was rescued from a nearby pasture and rebuilt piece by piece. It sits with other restored vehicles in the transportation building.
The museum is actually several buildings, some of which are joined together. Children are encouraged to explore them all. With an active imagination, they can see themselves in the school displays. One is inside the main building, segregated neatly with desks, chairs and tools of the school.
The other school display is in a restored school build. Last school year, it hosted a class of local children from Killdeer who planned and prepared themselves to dress in period clothing, packed a lunch in a syrup can, and marched to a school session in the old one-room school building.
Any time young visitors drop in, they are encouraged to look for special items. The museum offers children a scavenger hunt. Sending children off to find certain items gets them involved in examining the exhibits.
Even as the Dunn County Museum provides entry to the past, organizers are looking to the future. Fundraisers and raffles help the museum build a planned agriculture building including an exhibit of ready-to-farm antique tractors.
The path to the future also includes plans for the big white building at the entry to the Museum lot, the former Manning bank building. As money is available, the bank interior will be furnished with original banking décor the museum already has on hand. The August 26 Cream Can Supper will raise money for those future plans. The museum is on a growth path to create the portal for visitors step through to discover, preserve, and interpret the history of Dunn County and its role in settling this region of North America.