By Mike Kosik- Albany Enterprise
What started as a newly elected Holdingford city councilor's desire to get a record of past mayors and council members has bloomed into a full-fledged historical society.
"I started digging through the files for old minutes" of the city council, historical society member Mike Odden said.
As a result, one of the oldest buildings in Holdingford is being restored and will preserve the history of the area thanks to the efforts of the Holdingford Area Historical Society.
The building that most recently was used as the city's maintenance shop but has been turned over to the Holdingford Historical Society.
For a group that was formed about five years ago, they have taken on a big project. The first order of business is repairing the roof.
Bids were taken and the $16,000 project is scheduled for this fall.
Pretty soon a group of people interested in preserving the history of the Holdingford area met at the Corner Pizza and became the Holdingford Area Historical Society.
The society first looked at an old school house that was owned by Margaret Huls, a former teacher.
Huls, a society member, received the old school house with the stipulation that it would be preserved. Plans were to move the building, but issues regarding asbestos, the cost of moving the building and its condition squelched the idea.
At the time, Huls was a member of the Holding Township Historical Society.
What did pan out was the old Welna Produce building, located on the corner of Main Street and County Road 17.
The 80 by 40 foot building had also been used by the Holdingford School District for shop and agriculture classes before the city took it over, Odden said.
The building is still in good shape, but the roof leaks. Through various fundraisers, the society raised the money for the new roof.
After that plans are to section the building off for various displays.
One of those displays will be a one-room classroom, so the historical society will be able to use some of the old fixtures and items in the old school building that had been turned over to Huls.
The Welna building sits on an old railroad lease site. The railroad track is now the Lake Wobegon Trail, which is owned by the county.
"If the building is razed, nothing can go back there," historical society member Mark Koehn said.
Much of the exterior of the building will remain as is, but the interior displays will be a work in progress, said Sue Marstein, a city councilor and society member.
"It's going to be a 15-year project," historical society president Herman Ebnet said.
While fundraising will be an on-going activity, the historical society hopes to secure grants.
To that end, it needs to affiliate with the Stearns County History Museum and the Minnesota Historical Society. While neither organization provides funding or other assistance, it is a necessary step to get grant money.
But the historical society has initiated several fundraisers, and has done fairly well.
One of them is Minnesota 13 t-shirts. Minnesota 13 was the name given to the moonshine produced in Stearns County during Prohibition.
The Holdingford area was one of the hotbeds of moonshining and Minnesota 13 had the reputation of being a high quality, albeit elicit liquor.
The historical society also sells bottled water and has set up collection jars throughout the community.
The sale of CDs containing news stories from the Holdingford Advertiser is another fundraiser. Stories from issues of the Advertiser going back to the 1900s are on the CDs.
The Advertiser was the precursor to the Holdingford Herald, which published until 1972.
"It's been doing very well for us," Marstein said about the CDs.
The historical society hopes to tie in their building with the covered bridge over the Lake Wobegon Trail and the trail itself. A gift shop is one possibility.
While the historical society has many artifacts now, they are continuing to look for more, particularly old photos.
"People with old photos can donate them to the historical society," said member Jan Klug, or they can just drop them off and get them returned.
"If people have old photos they can give them to Mike (Odden) who will make copies and give the photos back," Ebnet said.
The Holdingford Area Historical Society is a not for profit organization and donations are tax deductible. Those who wish to donate can send their donation to Holdingford Area Historical Society, c/o Sue Marstein, Box 69, Holdingford, MN. 56304, or drop it off at the Stearns Bank in Holdingford.