From the Beginning… BCHS exhibit to show formation of Brown County
BROWN COUNTY — The Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) is putting in the final touches of one of its most ambitious museum exhibits, “Becoming Brown County.”
This will be a new permanent exhibit in the Brown County Museum. It will outline the history of Brown County from the last ice age to the beginning of the 20th Century.
BCHS Executive Director Kathleen Backer said the idea for this exhibit came about three years ago, but it was a long road bringing it to life. Backer said after having an idea the museum needed to secure the support of the BCHS board of trustees, raise funds, develop the concept, hire an exhibit company, select artifacts and images, design the exhibit gallery, construct the gallery walls, fabricate exhibit cases, write informational text and install everything.
Backer said she was thrilled to see the project realized after years of work.
The exhibit is being installed on the main floor of the museum. The goal of the exhibit is to address the early history and formation of Brown County. This will be a permanent exhibit with planned updates in future years to highlight other stories or to incorporate new ways to convey history.
“The exhibit Early Brown County is a comprehensive look at the area from its earliest formation to its final shape as the Brown County we know today,” BCHS Research Librarian Darla Gehbhard said in a press release. “The exhibit has been an exciting project to work on and contains many artifacts, photographs and interactive tools that will enrich the experience of visitors to the BCHS museum.”
The museum’s interior space will be rearranged to accommodate the exhibit. The front entryway has already been changed. The new layout directs visitors through the first-floor exhibit in chronological order. The first part is Brown County during the Ice Age.
The exhibit will feature information on the people of Brown County, but it will also detail the land and the resources it provides. This section will include natural history items, including a mammoth tooth.
In a press release, BCHS Curator Ryan Harren said “The area’s human history began thousands of years ago. Although most of the exhibit focuses on the last two hundred years of Brown County’s history, the land was long occupied by Native American cultures. The history of those cultures and those people is an essential part of Brown County.”
The exhibit will feature artifacts and information on historic and prehistoric cultures, such as small images of petroglyphs and items owned by Dakota who lived in the area.
Backer said there will be information on the different ethnic languages in Brown County. They hope to eventually include interactive features including recordings of different words said in the various languages.
An iPad will feature recordings of common words spoken in English, Dakota, German, Norwegian, Swedish and Bohemian.
The exhibit will follow Brown County history through the fur trade and settlement by Europeans. The formation of the early Brown County towns will also be a feature with information on the townships and infrastructure. Sections on the exhibit will highlight agriculture, industries and business. Transportation, early education healthcare and recreational exhibit will be included.
Backer estimated the exhibit will have over 43 informational panels; some large others will be small reader rail panels.
The Early Brown County exhibit will allow the museum to display a wide variety of artifacts. Items that were not previously on display can come from storage. Other items will be seen on a rotating basis.
Setting up the exhibit has been an educational experience for the BCHS. Backer said the goal of telling a comprehensive history of the county helped highlight blank spots in the museum’s collection.
“It helped to understand what we didn’t have,” Backer said.
For example, the BCHS does have complete photo records of the schools in Brown County. Backer said they know where all the schools were located and a map with information on the schools will be part of the display, but not all the schools have photographs.
Backer believes members of the public might have photos of some of the old schools and is hoping the exhibit will encourage people to bring in photos to the BCHS to be scanned for the museum archives.
Construction of the exhibit is still underway. New items, including drawers for displaying artifacts, need to be assembled. Information panels are still being manufactured and the museum is applying a fresh coat of paint to the interior. BCHS has even ordered new mannequins to display period-accurate clothing.
Backer said special attention is being paid to the mannequin representing Captain Joseph Hoffmeister. The museum is trying to get the detail down to the buttons on his uniform.
“We want him to look authentic down to the hairstyle,” Backer said.
The mannequin will be placed on a bandstand display for a section on Brown County music. Hoffmeister was chosen for the display for his involvement with all types of music, from band to classical music.
The variety of information and items on display in the exhibit makes it one of the most ambitious exhibits.
The only part of the county’s history not detailed in the exhibit is the U.S./Dakota War. This is not an oversight. The BCHS already has a separate exhibit detailing the war on the third floor.
Installation of the exhibit is still underway. A soft opening for the exhibit is planned for May 11, with a grand opening to follow.
“We’re so excited about this and happy with the board and support from donors,” Backer said.