The Dakota County Historical Society: A Look Back
The society was established in 1939 when South St. Paul High School shop teacher Fred Lawshe turned over a rock and found an artifact beneath it.
The Dakota County Historical Society is no small operation.
Each year, the society organizes more than 75 programs and exhibitions for an audience of approximately 90,000 people with the help of roughly 250 volunteers who contribute a grand total of more than 6,000 hours to the organization.
“It’s a tremendous history this county has, and it’s a fascinating history,” said DCHS research librarian Rebecca Snyder.
However, there was a time when the historical society was just one man, pursuing his passion for local history.
The society was established in 1939 when a South St. Paul High School shop teacher named Fred Lawshe turned over a rock and found an artifact beneath it.
After making this discovery, Lawshe began building a collection of historical objects and founded the Dakota County Archaeological and Historical Society, which is known today as the DCHS.
In 1955, the collection was put on display at South St. Paul High School, before it was later moved to the town’s city hall.
It was determined 21 years after that initial display that a structure should be built to house the collection. In 1976, ground was broken for the Lawshe Memorial Museum, which opened in 1978 and currently serves as administrative headquarters for the historical society.
The opening of the Lawshe Memorial Museum led to the regionalization of the DCHS, which had previously primarily served the people of South St. Paul. The Lawshe museum became a hub for research and exhibit development.
The museum is also home to the DCHS collection, which includes over 30,000 historical objects and images.
But the DCHS is much more than one museum. The historical society includes the Civil War era LeDuc Historic Estate in Hastings. The society also operates programming at three county service centers, the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, county libraries and parks and other regional locations.
The DCHS has more than 45 community partners and facilitates several local historical interest groups, including the Burnsville Historical Society, the Dakota County Genealogical Society and the Friends of LeDuc of Historic Hastings.
The historical society employs three fulltime staff members and seven part time staff members, all of whom are charged with collecting, preserving, promoting and presenting the history of Dakota County.
“It’s really an educational purpose,” said Chad Roberts, the society’s executive director. “At the end of the day, we serve people.”
The DCHS operates on an annual budget of $300,000. Funding for the historical society is provided by a combination of donor and member support, community partner support, earned revenue and an annual $125,000 grant from Dakota County. The county also owns and maintains the Lawshe Museum. The LeDuc estate is owned by the city of Hastings.
Memberships for the historical society start at $30 per person. For more information about becoming a member, visit the Dakota County Historical Society website.