The Renville County Historical Society & Museum has been preserving the history of this
county since 1940. On January 19, 1940, a group of Renville County citizens met and
discussed their concerns about keeping the historical documents and items preserved for
future generations. This was the birth of the organization. The organization was incorporated
on March 23, 1940 with seventeen founding members that included J.R. Landy, R.B. Henton
and several other people from each of the cities of the county.
The Board put together exhibits in the Courthouse in Olivia with the first artifacts donated that
included a collection consisting of Native American rocks, beadwork, stone hammers, peace pipe,
items from the Brown house, a 1908 speedometer, a round stone cover, brass part of a cannon
shell, an Alundum part rope shape, labeled stones, fossils, 6 arrowheads, a cowbell, wooden
clamp, ground auger, candle mold, sickle guard, wood rake, wood shovel, and the book, Kandiyohi
Meetings were held throughout the county, with a program held in each city featuring their
history. And then, on December 7, 1941, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan. Focus of all the county residents was on the war effort.
The organization was revived on November 2, 1953 with a meeting being convened at the County Commissioners room, being led by the Minnesota Historical Society’s Field
Coordinator, Arch Graham. It was the goal of MNHS to have a historical society in each of its 87 counties. Officers were elected and they continued to meet around the county at various locations. In 1954 it was decided to have a booth at the county fair in Bird Island. A. A. Davidson and Frank Hopkins offered to man the booth. Mr. Hopkins came dressed in full Indian regalia. Both men talked about how important it is to preserve history for future generations.
On March 25, 1955, a large group met in Franklin to discuss the structures in Finntown which consisted of the old log building (hotel) and Finnish Bath. The two Norfolk schoolhouses (Dist 28 & 36) had already been acquired and it was discussed to move them to this location.
April 1956 it was decided to pass on Finntown. The site in Morton was accepted at the June 6 meeting. Fall of 1956 the schoolhouses were moved to the Morton site, Dist. 28 (Tisdell school) was to be the Museum, and Dist. 36 (Revier School) turned back into a country school.
In 1967, William Buckley gifted lots to the Historical Society to install the 1869 Lerud cabin. The cabin had originally been in Sacred Heart Township. In 1968 the Morton Lions created signs to direct visitors to the Museum and a brochure of the historical society and other sites was created. The first newsletter was printed August 1974 and distributed at the county fair.
The Machine Shed was constructed in the summer of 1975 to house farming equipment. The board completed projects such as reprinting the History of Renville County 1916 Volume 1& 2 and publishing Frank Svoboda’s Looking Back. In 1979 a large undertaking for the board was putting together the book the History of Renville County 1980. A blacksmith shop was restored on the museum grounds. Unfortunately, this building had to be razed in 2015 due to safety concerns.
In 1981 the Churchill Church was donated to the historical society. With the structure being so far from the Museum Grounds it was decided in 2008 to sell the church. It still stands today and someone from the Twin Cities has been restoring it. The official groundbreaking of the current Main Museum happened on July 15, 1988, with the dedication ceremony taking place on June 25, 1989. In 1997, the St. John’s Episcopal Church was donated to the historical society. The Preservation Association of Olivia paid for the moving and placing it on a foundation on the museum grounds. This building is used for events including the 4th of July Patriotic Sing-a-Long.
In 1999 the historical society was deeded the title to the Way Station in Camp Township by the Kvam family. This building is believed to be the oldest standing building in the county. Thanks to a Fairfax family, the building now is marked with a sign indicating part of its history.
The historical societies Research Library collection has grown since it moved into the new museum building in 1989. For years volunteers have clipped newspapers, researched on the microfilm and collected Renville County historically significant books. The Research Library is a perfect place to start researching your family’s history. The historical society has lots of information you can’t find on the internet. Over the years programs and bus tours have been held along with additional publications of
various Renville County subjects for sale in the gift shop including the Yellowstone Trail,
Country Schools of Renville County and the Old Villages. The curators and directors over the years have left a positive mark on the organization. Along with a strong board and very supportive county commissioners, the museum grounds continued to grow. 2013 a building was built over top of the Lerud log cabin to protect it from the elements. 2015 the lot south of the Main Museum was purchased for the potential of a new
building. The current Main Museum is getting full, and more exhibit space is required to show off the great donations of Renville County history that we have received over the last eighty-two years.
Exhibits have been changed out, updated, further researched, and shared with locals, school groups, Minnesotans, out-of-staters, and international visitors. Static exhibits include history on the Morton Gneiss, the U.S.S. Renville, and Native American artwork.
The current 2022 executive committee includes David Torgelson, President (Dist. 4); KurtValentin, Vice-President (Dist. 2); Colleen Freitag, Treasurer (Dist. 2); Marcia Dworshak, Secretary (Dist. 3). The 2022 board trustees: Mark Koenig, Dist. 1; Diane Arndt, Dist. 2; Dawn Bleick, Dist. 2.; Ron Degner, Dist. 2; Barb Squibb, Dist. 3. County Commissioner Rep, Bob Fox (Dist. 2). According to RCHS bylaws we are to have three representatives from the five districts of the county. We are currently seeking additional board members. If you are interested in serving on the board, please contact Nicole at the Museum.
The current Executive Director is Nicole Elzenga, she has been with the organization since February 2015. James Paulson of Morton, currently with the federally funded, Motivation, Education & Training organization, trains up to 15 hours a week at the Museum. Linda Balk of rural Renville is a part-time employee (seasonal) and volunteer. 2021 RCHS intern, Abby Nelson of Morton worked 18 hours a week (seasonal). 2021 volunteers included Dick Roper of Morton, Ava & Sophia Ahlbrecht, children of Dan & Joy Ahlbrecht of rural Hector, Charity Webster of Axtell, TX, and Jim Remmele of Echo. We have other members that stop in and assist for specific projects. We are currently seeking additional volunteers for several exciting projects, contact Nicole for more information.
The historical society is open year-round, September – May hours are Monday – Friday 10 AM
– 4 PM; June – August hours are Monday – Saturday 10 AM – 4 PM. There is an admission,
but if you are a member, you get in FREE. The Research Library has the same hours, but we would appreciate if you would call to make an appointment 507-697-6147 to make sure we have to staff to assist you. The museum is closed the week of the Renville County Fair as we are in Building # 4 that week with exhibits and the gift store.
RCHS encourages outreach presentations to other Renville County organizations including nursing homes, churches, and schools. Contact Nicole for more information.
RCHS is very proud of its website www.renvillecountyhistory.com and the social media pages
on Facebook @RCHSMuseum and Twitter @RenvilleCoMNHis. RCHS wants to make sure our county citizens are aware of the opportunities to share their story on the website for the family files. There is also an honor roll page for Renville County related veterans, BLOG, and online gift store. We encourage every family in Renville County to be a member of the historical society to continue its mission of preserving Renville County from yesterday until tomorrow.