Tag Archives: Historic preservation

In Pursuit of Preservation as a Public Agenda Priority

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. ~~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last Friday our guest on the “Voices of Northeast” series (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/)

was Richard (Dick) Kelly, retired University of Minnesota librarian. Dick spoke eloquently of his work curating a number of major personal papers and libraries, including the John Berryman collection, sharing delightful stories of marginal notes and even the way that Berryman’s books were shelved in his home. Though Dick was quick to remind me that he is indeed a librarian not an archivist, as I listened to his wise comments and his breadth of experience I kept thinking of how complementary – and interdependent. The symbiotic relationship of professions committed to preserving our culture heritage is more than ever essential. The information/communications revolution determines that information and ideas, stored in ever-evolving formats, flow freely through an ever-expanding network of channels. As a society we face the challenge to craft a mix of rules and responsibilities, formats and functions that assure preservation of this “heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge.”

And so my thoughts in recent days have tended to revolve that challenge – to explore as a concerned human just how we can assure that this vast resource – the recorded knowledge of humankind – can achieve status as a public priority. Preservation of our heritage must thrive, never languish, in the complex netherworld of “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.”

My pondering and probing soon led me to the inevitable digital dive where I found rich resources, human and recorded, that offer comfort and inspire the compulsion to act.

First, I learned that my timing is spot on – We are midweek of Preservation Week 2016, sponsored by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, the Library of Congress and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. (http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/sponsors) There I learned that the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections, conducted over a decade ago, revealed that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items, 63% of which are housed in libraries. Forget tomes and Hollinger files, these are moving images, maps, paintings, sound recordings, apps and countless other formats that were not yet envisioned a decade ago. Given the enormity of the treasures, experts assess that 630 million items cry out for attention – while 80% of the institutions, from county historical societies to corporations to academic libraries and museums, have no paid staff responsible for care of the collection.

Needless to say, the history of the nation is yet to be explored, much less interpreted. More than ever, understanding our heritage demands access to the records of the globe. At the opposite end of the continuum, one need only turn on the TV to learn of individuals’ and families’ passion to know more about their roots.

As I dug more deeply I learned that May 1 is MayDay, a complementary event spearheaded by the Association of American Archives/. (http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/mayday-saving-our-archives#.Vx_xvktEB4M) Though the message may be subliminal, MayDay is not your ordinary distress signal but the annual grassroots initiative to build public awareness of the complexities and critical state of preserving our cultural heritage.

Clearly, this modest blog is something short of a blip on the archival radar.   My hope is that this grassroots call to action, a hope that readers will pause to ponder the imperative to pay heed to the recorded legacy of this nation – a narrative told by millions of individuals in vast formats.   Much like the narrators themselves, these archival records face the challenge of age, obsolescence, vulnerability, and, above all, inattention.

Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident. ~~ Thomas Jefferson



Historians Make History as They Gather in St. Paul

Though history’s always in the making in St. Paul the saintly city is more than ever abuzz this week with curators, archivists, preservation and conservation experts, scholars, digitizers, funders and dedicated historians of every stripe.   It’s impossible to categorize, much less describe, the thousand-plus committed attendees at the annual conference of the American Association for State and Local History meeting this week at the Crowne Plaza on the banks of the Mississippi (if you don’t count the Kellogg Boulevard speedway….)

“Greater than the Sum of Our Parts” is the intriguing theme of the conference. A few hours in the exhibits gives meaning to the phrase – the exhibitors reflect the diverse and interdependent functions that comprise the complex world of these stewards of the narrative of the nation’s towns, states and regions. The robust agenda includes programs and tours on corporate history, museums, archives, court and legal history, classrooms, interpretive centers, historic homes, military history, religious history and more.

The keynote speakers for the conference suggest the diversity of the themes and participants — Garrison Keillor keynoted today followed tomorrow by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of Carlson and more.   Speaker at Friday’s awards banquet is Dr. Anton Treuer, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language.

There are tours and more tours – of St. Paul’s brewing history “from Pig’s Eye to Summit”, a farm tour of the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the Oliver Kelley farm, tours of the mighty Mississippi, the Alexander Ramsey House, several farmers’ markets and corporate museums. And there are sessions on services for people with disabilities and one session that caught my eye, a discussion entitled “Memories Matter: Our Historic Resources to Help Those with Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases.”

The exhibits range from high tech digital archives to art conservationists determined to preserve art and objects as “primary sources”, reflected but not replaced be digital reproductions (or paint-by-number replications) of the original.

Squadrons of Minnesota museum mavens, clad in sky blue water t-shirts, are everywhere welcoming the visitors, pointing out the area’s sites and eateries, telling the stories, and having the strength to get up and do what needs to be done to guarantee that the 2014 American Association for State and Local History will go down in history!






Whither Shoreham Yards – blight or boon to Northeast Minneapolis

The ongoing saga of the future of Shoreham Yards is as complex and tangled as the map of the 230 acre railroad yard that has taken up a generous expanse of Northeast Minneapolis since 1888.  In recent years Canadian Pacific Railroad has operated the sprawling train, trucking and bulk distribution site that was once the major switch point for trains headed from the grain mills on the Mississippi to the East Coast. Since the mid-1990’s the Yards have been at the center of a host of controversies involving affected neighborhood residents, the entrenched  railroad, anxious developers, concerned environmentalists, health authorities, architectural preservationists and a parade of elected officials.  Though the Yards incorporate the land from Central to University and 27th Avenue Northeast to St. Anthony Parkway much of the discussion about disposition of the area focuses on an area known as “the teardrop” and on the historic Roundhouse.

For the driver speeding past en route to elsewhere, the Yards are a passing curiosity, a maze of interlocking tracks, parking lots, some outbuildings and a neighborhood eyesore.  In fact, the Shoreham Yards represent one of the last vestiges of the prominence of Minneapolis as a transit center.  The facility once served as the primary locomotive repair and maintenance facility for the Soo Line Railroad and its predecessor, the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic Railroad.

A unique feature of the Yards is the 48-stall Historic Roundhouse, constructed in 1887.  Preservationists are particularly concerned about the Roundhouse/ which was designated early in this century as a Minneapolis Historical Landmark. In 2003 Shoreham Yards and Roundhouse were named one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Properties by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.  To this day the Roundhouse is closed to the public, visible only from a distance over a fence west of Central Avenue and 29th Avenue.  Dan Haugen, writing in the Northeaster (reprinted in the Twin Cities Daily Planet) in 2007, offers an excellent review of the history and current status of negotiations regarding the Roundhouse.

Preservation is but the tip of the controversies surrounding the future of the Yards.  A portion of Shoreham Yards is a designated Industrial Employment District in the Comprehensive Plan for Minneapolis. This designation means that the City will support redevelopment of the area for new light industrial business that provide high job density, good wages and low impact on the surrounding community The City of Minneapolis has outlined a number of potential redevelopment scenarios for the section of the 2008 Shoreham Yards, including the Roundhouse,  in the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse Reuse Study, a living document that is updated regularly on the Community Planning and Economic Development website.  An important recent development is posting of Request for Proposals for two parcels of Shoreham Yards, one including the Shoreham Roundhouse.

Much of the discussion relating to the disposition of Shoreham Yards focuses on pollution, particularly dust from activity in the Yards, as well as appearance and safety issues related to unlocked containers near public streets.  Arguments rage about the contamination of the major aquifer essential to long-term and emergency water access./ Neighbors have also complained about trash deposited on the grounds.. Health Consultation documents have been produced by the state and federal government/ These and hundreds of environment related documents are available on the Shoreham Depository document site which also provides an excellent list of state and corporate contacts.

An important player in the deliberations is the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee (SAAC) formed in 1998 as part of the court settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the Canadian Pacific Railway, an agreement that related generally to demolition of various Shoreham buildings.  The SAAC which meets monthly includes city, railroad, neighborhood organization, business and community members.  Notes of SAAC’s activities over the past dozen years present a vivid record of the work SAAC has done to explore economic, environmental, preservation and other issues.  A 2008 note reports that “Shoreham on Central and Roundhouse is listed as a ‘transformational, once-in-a-generation’ opportunity in the city’s Small Area Plan.”  \

One recent initiative of the SAAC is the Nine Lives Project.   Artist Foster Willey has created one of his “Made in Minnesota” posters featuring icons of the historic Shoreham Roundhouse.  Tax deductible purchases of the Nine Lives Project poster support the work of SAAC.


The Eastside Food Co-op is taking affirmative action by providing an open forum on Shoreham Yards for the community.  The Other Side of the Tracks is the topic of EFC’s December Network. It’s Thursday, December 9, 7:30 a.m. in the Granite Room at the Co-op,  2551 Central Avenue Northeast, just North of Lowry.  It’s free and open. Good Parking.  MTC #10.

Residents, policy-makers and others concerned about the process, proposed plans and potential problems may wish to consult some of the key online resources linked here or join the exchange on  E-Democracy* (http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls-ne).   Each presents a unique perspective on a complex issue that has profound long-term consequences for Northeast Minneapolis.