Future uncertain for CCHS sites and events

Danae Milbrandt
Chippewa City, along with other county historical sites, remains closed to the public.

After several months of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Historical Society is beginning to relax restrictions on state historical sites. However, the future is less than certain for the Chippewa County Historical Society’s sites and events.

According to Celeste Suter, executive director of the Chippewa County Historical Society, while the Minnesota Historical Society has begun reopening some of its locations, the Chippewa County Historical Society is in the process of considering whether or not to open local historical sites after closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our Board of Directors has adopted a Pandemic Protocol that requires a two-week decline in cases in Chippewa County before we will consider a phased reopening,” said Suter. “It may well be that we are unable to be open at Historic Chippewa City or the Swensson Farm Museum for the season, but we are in a wait and see scenario.”

According to the Minnesota Historical Society website, the Split Rock Lighthouse located in Two Harbors and Jeffers Petroglyphys in Comfrey will be open to visitors beginning July 15. Birch Coulee Battlefield, the Lower Sioux Agency, Marine Mill, and Traverse des Sioux are already open to the public at this time.

Suter stated that Chippewa County Historical Society’s locations are still able to host weddings, as well as other gatherings within the governor’s guidelines. There will, however, be guidelines for visitation once the sites are able to reopen for tours.

“If and when we open,” Suter said, “physical distancing will be required, along with the wearing of masks in indoor spaces and in the presence of other visitors and staff. Staff and visitors are currently wearing masks when in the same indoor space.”

Days and hours are also yet to be determined, and tours would most likely start with visits by appointment only.

So far, all Chippewa County Historical Society events for the year have been either canceled or postponed, such as the Annual Banquet, Heritage Week, Mission Sunday, opening days, workshops, and tours. Future events are only able to be held if it is considered safe to do so, and the guidelines set forth in the protocol are met.

“Upcoming events that we are hoping will be held in some fashion are the Horse Power Event and Christmas in the Village,” said Suter.

Chippewa County Historical Society staff began working mainly from home in mid-March, while other staff delayed beginning work for the season but are now able to work in isolation to take care of maintenance needs. While the staff works primarily at the office now, some days they continue to work from home.

In spite of all the difficulties, there has been somewhat of a silver lining to the closures. According to Suter, without event planning and with the tourist season put on hold, historical society staff have had more time to work on maintenance, organization, grant writing, and other projects they don’t normally have time for.

“All meetings with the board and other groups, as well as workshops and seminars, have been virtual via Zoom or Google Meets,” Suter said. “We have also been keeping up to date with folks by posting on our Chippewa County Historical Society Facebook page, and update the website, www.cohistory.org, as the situation changes.”

This spring, they, along with other museums in Minnesota, posted a Museum Alphabet series on Facebook, which highlighted various facts and artifacts from each of their museums. They have also posted puzzles, articles, and other interesting facts, which can still be found by checking out the hashtag #MNMuseumAlphabet on Facebook.

“Thankfully,” said Suter, “our members and visitors have been understanding and supportive in the decisions that have been made. We have great members and welcome anyone who wants to join.”

According to Suter, membership forms can be found on the Chippewa County Historical Society website.

“We have levels for individuals and businesses that are affordable for all!” she said.