Golden Valley Historical Society looking to build a bigger future

Golden Valley Historical Society Board Director Don Anderson recounts details of the pre-World War II Chickering piano to his right, one of his personal favorite items in the organization’s possession. (Photo by Joseph Palmersheim – Sun Newspapers)

Golden Valley Historical Society Board Director Don Anderson recounts details of the pre-World War II Chickering piano to his right, one of his personal favorite items in the organization’s possession. (Photo by Joseph Palmersheim – Sun Newspapers)

The little white church on Golden Valley Road has witnessed many changes since 1882.

It outlasted the pioneers who built it. It survived being moved to its current location on rolling logs. It served several religious denominations.

Now, it serves as a focal point for Golden Valley’s past.

Members of the Golden Valley Historical Society hope to raise $250,000 this year to add a 1,000-square foot addition to the back of the church. Expanding will allow the society to bring objects of the past up from the church basement, where they are currently stored, and back into the light.

The nonprofit organization recently sent out a letter seeking donations to match a $100,000 gift from Board Director Don Anderson and his wife, Mary. Matching funds will be accepted throughout the year, and group member Bob Shaffer has produced a design for the expansion.

“We’re now ready to make a permanent, defined place to display the archive that we have collected for the last 40 years,” Anderson said. “Our main display is at City Hall right now. We should have one here. We’re going to have a major campaign for raising funds for that … we’re now ready to make a permanent Golden Valley museum where we can display the heritage of Golden Valley.”

Society President Ken Huber said that a permanent museum has been one of the organization’s goals since it’s founding in 1973. The former church building-turned-headquarters was purchased 15 years ago with the help of Shirley Schultz, who donated the $86,000 needed to buy it. In addition to housing the Historical Society, the church is also used for weddings, which bring in additional revenue to pay utilities.

“The space is not really conducive to museum display,” Huber said. “People see the sign, the building, and have the expectation that they are going to come in and see Golden Valley history. We physically can’t do that in our existing space.”

The Historical Society had architectural plans for an expansion prepared and presented in front of the city council five years ago, Huber said. Permission to proceed with planning was given and zoning variances were granted, but forces beyond local control put a stop to the progress.

“Unfortunately, the bubble burst in the economy, and I think it was clear to all that the climate was not right for the capital funding at that time,” Huber said. “So we put things on hold, kind of waiting for the economy to turn around.”

Pieces of history

The former church hasn’t remained static since then, having been modified for handicapped accessibility. New restrooms, new sprinklers, a new water main and air conditioning were also added. Outside, there is new paint, new gutters, new shingles and new landscaping.

Now, it’s time for the rest of the Historical Society membership and the community to step up and do its part, Huber said.

“I think it’s an easy sell, because I think it’s a facility that many communities have but Golden Valley doesn’t,” he said. “Take a look at Plymouth, Edina, Richfield – they have programs similar to ours. They are vibrant, active, doing things, but they have a more substantial dedicated space. We unfortunately haven’t had that.”

The organization’s archive includes signage, items saved from buildings, pioneer-era items, a pedal-powered grinding wheel knife sharpener, a large collection of vintage riding toys (transported annually for children to enjoy at Golden Valley Days), along with photos and maps. The last category is one of Huber’s favorites.

“I enjoy the old maps that illustrate the original pioneer settler homesteads and where the farms were located,” he said. “I think a lot of people enjoy looking at that stuff, too, because they can find where their own home is presently located. (The land) my own house (is on) was never cultivated for farming – it was heavily wooded in those days.”

Historical items come from all over, Anderson said, and are sometimes left on the front steps of the church building without any explanation as to who left them or what the history is. Someone once left a box of wooden planes used in woodworking. A member restored them, and Anderson says they are now “quite valuable.” Another item saved from oblivion is a painting of the old Hart’s greenhouse that used to hang in Glenwood Hills Hospital.

“The son of the hospital’s superintendent called one day and said his father was getting rid of things, and he had an old painting that hung in the offices of the hospital,” Anderson said. “Those were the days where (smoking was allowed even in hospitals), and he said it was so dirty from cigarette smoke that you couldn’t read who painted it.”

The painting was so dirty that Anderson didn’t even recognize the subject matter. After being restored and reframed, it was appraised as being worth $10,000, Anderson said.

“They were going to throw that in the dumpster,” he said. “Now we have it insured and sitting in our display case in city hall. Hart’s greenhouse was located where Courage Center now is, so (the painting) really was a piece of Golden Valley history.”

One of Anderson’s favorite items sits near the front of the old church space. The Chickering Piano was built in Boston in the fall of 1941. He says it is the last piano to come off the production line before the U.S. War Production Board ordered the cessation of all piano manufacturing during World War II. A resident who could not fit it in a new condo donated the piano to the Historical Society.

“After she told me the history of it, how could we refuse?” Anderson said. “She paid to have it moved over here, paid a piano tuner to make sure it was in working condition. It has a different tune, sound to it than pianos of today. It’s all wood. It’s really a museum piece.”

The piano is used during some of the weddings now held in the space. Like the building housing the city’s history, it is a functional part of the past.

Huber said that the new addition to the church could not only let people know where the city has been, but where it may be headed.

“When people think ‘museum’ and ‘history,’ they think backwards,” Huber said. “We had a good experience with the time capsule done as part of the city’s 125th anniversary celebration. I think there would be room in our facility for a prospective Golden Valley – looking forward, looking ahead, what can Golden Valley expect in the future?”

Donations (cash, check or credit) can be made directly to the Golden Valley Historical Society. For more information, go to goldenvalleyhistoricalsociety.org or call 763-588-8578.

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