When Edina, MN was founded, back in 1870, by a handful of settlers who came to the area and built a small red mill on the banks of Minnehaha Creek, few could have predicted that it would have grown into what it is today.
Quite apart from Edina’s claim to fame, as being the location of the nations first fully enclosed and climate-controlled mall, which certainly put this close-knit community on the map, it is a city that still connects to the past in ways that other places have forgotten. And a huge part of this is through the Edina Historical Museum.
Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the museum, who has taken it to a new level with her innovative thinking and ability to target new and emerging audiences with her exciting program of events at various locations throughout the city. There’s no doubt in Jennifer’s mind, that people get excited about history. And the significance of Edina’s makes it no less valuable than any other town or city in the Midwest.
Opened in 1969 the Edina Historical Museum’s primary responsibility is to collect, preserve and tell the story of the city and make sure that the local population, and visitors to the area alike, have a place to go to when they want to know something about the past.
The museum holds a huge collection of artifacts which hark back to its founding, the glory days when it housed 7 individual mills, through two World Wars, the colossal depression of the 1930s and other momentous historical events. But today, Jennifer understands the complexities involved with running a non-profit organization which relies on people coming through its doors and making sufficient contributions to keep it afloat for future generations.
Engaging with the older generation has never been a problem for Edina, Minnesota and with a range of camps, school tours and other ideas to engage with the younger audience, it means that Jennifer is slowly but surely ensuring that Edina Historical Museum is going to be relevant for a long time to come.
She came to the role of Executive Director about 18 months ago and in her own words was partly inspired through her mom who was ‘kind of an expert on Laura Ingalls-Wilder and she took us around lots of places she lived and made us Laura and Mary dresses, my sister and I…’
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But her experiences as a lover of architecture and art also played a big part in this and having volunteered for 8 years in St Paul on the Lexham Community Council and acquiring a range of other skills she picked up along the way, it meant that Jennifer had a good insight into how things work for something like the Edina Historical Museum. Her desire for a sense of space, combined with a rare ability which is both artistic and problem-solving at the same time, made her a perfect fit and the result has been the building of an exciting and interactive exhibit.
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Last year, as part of the drive to make the museum more efficient, Jennifer commissioned a partial inventory to be carried out. By doing so and photographing much of the collection, she is now better able to know exactly what she has and can avoid duplicating things and make space for new additions that may bring in additional visitors. And because Edina’s story, and the changes it has gone through over the past 100 years, continues to attract interest she is still getting people at her door now, eager to donate their treasures.
Getting the whole community engaged in Minnesota history and in Edina in particular is definitely something that is on Jennifer’s radar right now. As part of this she attracts local historian speakers for free or reduced fees. Utilizing some of the iconic buildings in the city to make for a more genuine experience is all part of the plan.
Two of these buildings, Cahill School and Grange Hall were moved from their original sites and now serve as summer camp locations and places where people can become immersed and inspired in a form of living history. A great example of this is allowing kids to dress like they would have in 1900 and attend the sort school that kids would have gone to in those days.
And as Jennifer says, ‘we’ve really tried to utilize those spaces better in terms of having more events there. We’ve had events at the Grange Hall and we had a recent talk about the history of Minnehaha Creek…’
It all forms part of getting people involved in as many ways as possible and it’s working. Kids are coming back time and again. They are giving up their own time to help younger children get the same experiences and the prospects are certainly looking bright for Edina. Jennifer’s work there has been a cornerstone of the success and there is no doubt that she has upped the game of the Edina Historical Museum and that the collection is now more in order and accessible.
How you can contribute to Edina story
If you don’t think that a fully enclosed and climate-controlled mall is something to get excited about, then ask her how she felt when she sat in it one day and ate a slice of humble pizza there. It seems that Edina’s charm is limitless.
The acquisition of a Legacy Grant for Edina will only make things better still and will carry the museum forward into the future. But solvency is the keyword as we move forward through 21st century and people can all play a part in that by become a member or donating, attending events as they come up, sharing these on social media and keeping it fresh.
With plenty to look forward to and an eclectic line up of events that include book signings, new walking tours and a paranormal group eager to explore the Grange Hall building, it looks like Edina is maintaining its exciting place as a visionary city that will always have one foot firmly in the past.
It seems that Edina is continuing to make its own small pieces of history, even today.