The Pennington County Historical Society was founded in late July 1938, at a meeting of the Society for the American Sons and Daughters of Sweden in Thief River Falls. A committee was appointed at that time to organize a Pennington County Historical Society. This committee, composed of Paul Lundgren, who also served as the society’s first board chairman, Mrs. Theodore (Adelaide) Quale, Mrs. Andrew (Edith) Bottelson, Judge M.A. Brattland and Andrew Anderson, then proceeded to launch an organization that has survived all of these many years.
For many years the society had a display room in the city auditorium with all the artifacts shown off in one enclosed space. Then, in the mid-1970’s, Inga Geving, chairman of the society’s board at the time, learned that one of the local Lutheran churches was to be torn down. Owners of the building said that if a new location could be found and the funds raised to move the church, the society could have it. Unfortunately it was too late to achieve that goal in time to save the church. However, Geving was then inspired to save other local buildings by persuading the Pennington County board of commissioners to sell the old sewage treatment plant site to the historical society, which was how the Pioneer Village Museum got its start.
The society has a lot to offer, limited only by the vision and participation of its membership and the community. Volunteers in many areas are welcomed and celebrated.
Some of the goals of the organization for the future are to revitalize many of the displays, seek some more effective preservation methods, especially for fabrics and clothing artifacts, to add more educational content and to promote and interpret many of the museum’s exhibitions. Bringing in outside traveling exhibitions and cooperating with other local institutions, such as Northland Community and Technical College and the Chamber of Commerce, are also high on the priority list of the society’s future plans.
Another major goal is to increase membership in the society. There are a variety of membership packages that an individual or family might consider. Funds raised by these memberships provide a substantial part of the society’s annual budget. The society also receives an annual grant from Pennington County as well as funding from various grants and special projects.
The Pennington County Historical Society encourages all residents of the area to take advantage of what it has to offer.
This Museum, which, along with the Society’s Website, is the major focal point available to the public, is a source of pride and commitment for the entire community.
As early as the Pennington County Historical Society’s annual meeting in 1965, members were complaining that the single-room basement quarters in the City Auditorium wasn’t big enough to do justice to the collection, which had been growing since the earliest days of the Society, in 1938. Suggestions to move a vacant school and/or church building to the County Fairgrounds were made and work was begun to move in that direction.
Under the leadership of Inga D. (Mrs. Bert) Geving of Thief River Falls, the Society was able, in 1971, to obtain the land on the south edge of the city, that today supports the Pioneer Village Museum, which was dedicated on August 8, 1976. The collection of buildings was completed by the mid-1980’s and filled with historical displays of almost any type of artifact ever used in settlement of the area.
The Village, which includes nineteen buildings and two cabooses, offers the public a unique opportunity to walk through a replica of a northern Minnesota pioneer town with vintage gardens, as it might have been 100 years ago. It was named in honor of a local Norwegian immigrant, Peder Engelstad, and contains two railroad depots, a one-room schoolhouse, a church, log houses, a general store, a two-story Victorian house, a blacksmith shop, a barn, and a barber shop. Many pieces of farm machinery are also on display, and an extensive research collection of print materials is available for use.