By Aaron Person
2017 was the year that the MLM finally established a proper archive for its collection of photos, videos, documents, blueprints, and memorabilia. The idea to do this began many years ago, but it was daunting. Volunteer Kathy Newman started the effort by moving the archives to their current location in 2013. Finally, in 2015, an official Archives Committee was formed (members included Aaron Person, Sherry White, Helen Sears, Dave Peterson, Chris Wolf, and Juli Englander). Over the next year the Archives Committee met with and received tours from representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Hennepin History Museum, and other organizations to learn the proper basics of archiving.
By 2016 the committee had decided that it would be best to hire a professional consultant for the initial phase of the project. With the expertise of volunteer Helen Sears, the committee received a $9,157 legacy grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for labor and supplies expenses. The committee interviewed three candidates that October and ultimately hired Rachel Garrett Howell as the consulting archivist. Work could finally begin!
The first step was to draft a Collection Policy. This policy states that the mission of the archives is “to collect and preserve materials documenting the past, present, and future of the research, educational, and institutional needs of the MLM, in support of telling the story of the streetcar steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka and in support of its current safe operation.” It further stipulates that future acquisitions “shall be relevant to the mission of the MLM and help tell the story of the streetcar steamboat Minnehaha and other historic vessels on Lake Minnetonka.”
The real “dirty work” began in January 2017. After supplies were purchased, the committee began sorting through materials with Rachel’s assistance and guidance. At this point the collection was a disaster zone – materials had been thrown into random boxes over the years, and almost nothing was organized in any cohesive fashion. But, slowly but surely, the committee began organizing and re-housing. Photos, publications, and letter-sized documents were ordered accordingly, and rolled maps and blueprints were flattened and placed in a flat file cabinet. All materials were either re-housed in acid-free boxes, slipped into mylar sleeves, or sprayed with an alkaline substance to slow further deterioration.
Some real treasures were discovered in the process. These included many interesting photos taken of Minnehaha’s salvage, restoration, and early years of restored service. A number of original blueprints for various vessels (e.g. the 1915 streetcar boat Excelsior and 1917 tugboat Hercules) were also found. The biggest surprise, however, were copies of plans for the original 1906 streetcar boats (dated 1908), which were previously thought to be completely lost. Perhaps this means that the originals are still out there somewhere?
Although the initial project was completed by June 2017, work continued through the fall on organizing photos and other materials. Rachel has since moved on to a new job, but the Archives Committee is very thankful for the skills and expertise that she passed on. All materials are safe, accounted for, and findable at last!
The next steps that the committee have planned include labeling and cataloging all materials in a uniform fashion and digitizing videotapes. Certain blueprints (including the 1906 streetcar boat plans) are also set to be professionally scanned in the near future. Furthermore, donations are now ready to be accepted! If you are interested in donating items related to Minnehaha or other historic vessels on Lake Minnetonka (especially the streetcar boats), please contact us at email@example.com.
This project was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.