ICHS receives emergency grant

By Elizabeth Sias

The Isanti County Historical Society continues to move forward with recovery efforts following the destruction of its building by fire July 8.

Minnesota Historical Society Deputy Director Andrea Hart Kajer surveys the remains of the Isanti County Historical Society building, which was destroyed by arson on July 8. Most of the county’s historical collections were destroyed in the fire. Photos by Elizabeth Sias

To aid in the ongoing recovery process, the Minnesota Historical Society presented an emergency grant of $7,000 to the Isanti County Historical Society on Thursday, July 14.

Officials from both societies visited the remains of the county’s historical society building to review the damage and discuss the ongoing recovery strategy.

“The first step was the triage that (Kathy McCully, executive director of the Isanti County Historical Society) has done getting help and expertise to come in and identify what can be salvaged and how to do it and making a plan to do that,” said Stephen Elliott, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The grant is being matched by the county historical society through volunteer labor. Four people will work 15 hours a week for four months to match the $7,000 grant.

Most of the documents and photographs were destroyed by the fire in the early morning hours of July 8.

Most of the county’s historical collections were destroyed in the fire, however a team from the county and state historical societies, along with volunteers, salvaged materials, including 75 cubic feet of paper research collections. The surviving collection includes maps, oversize photographs, plat books, aerial photographs, quad maps, vital record index cards and vertical subject files.

The grant is part of the long-established State Grants in Aid program administered by the Minnesota Historical Society, and was presented in this emergency situation, even though the Society remains closed due to the State of Minnesota government shutdown. The Minnesota Historical Society, its museums, historic sites and library will reopen to the public on Saturday, July 23. Funding from the state comprises more than half of the Society’s operating budget.

The funds granted will be used to help restore, re-catalog, store and care for surviving archives and artifacts. The majority of books, documents, photos and artifacts that were salvaged from the fire were damaged by water necessary to contain the fire. These items will be freeze dried and stored appropriately so that they can be preserved for the future and accessed by the public.

Stephen Elliot, Minnesota Historical Society director and CEO, visited Cambridge on Thursday, July 14, to survey the remains of the Isanti County Historical Society building, which was destroyed by arson.

“Beginning to develop a recovery plan is the next step to moving forward,” Elliot said. “What’s great is they have a leader here who’s been on top of things and is obviously thinking. There’s the insurance — the beginning of a way to do the physical rebuilding — but meanwhile it’s making sure what collection is preservable is being taken care of.”

McCully explained that the freeze drying process is similar to drying bed sheets outside in the winter; the sheets will freeze, but when the ice is taken off, the sheets will be dry.

“I just have to remember to pace myself,” McCully said. “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”