The Goodhue County Historical Society began as the Old Settlers Association in 1869, making it the first county historical society in Minnesota. The mission of that organization stressed collecting, preserving, and publishing facts with regard to the history of the young county before those facts passed from the memory of the early settlers. It sought to gather a library of standard works and awaken throughout the county—and especially in the agricultural districts—a greater interest in scientific investigation. In 1905, the Old Settlers Association was reorganized and began collecting and preserving records and artifacts as part of its mission to awaken and maintain interest in the early history of Goodhue County.

In 1906, the new Carnegie Lawther Public Library included space in its Reading Room for a cabinet to display the association’s collection as well as storage space in its basement to house the collection. During the 1920s, a committee was appointed to collect and preserve artifacts. In 1927, the organization changed its name to the Goodhue County Historical Society and became affiliated with the Minnesota Historical Society. The Goodhue County Historical Society opened a one-room museum on the second floor of the Goodhue County Courthouse in 1932. Society President C.A. Rasmussen was appointed county historian and museum caretaker, and was given a monthly stipend by the county. The Society hired its first salaried employee, a curator, in 1938. In 1945, Mabel Densmore took over Rasmussen’s position as museum caretaker. She instituted a cataloguing system that was used until 1989 when the Goodhue County Historical Society switched to a tri-part numerical museum cataloguing system in accordance with museum standards.

In 1954, the Goodhue County Historical Society incorporated as a private, non-profit institution. The organization moved to two small rooms in 1963 when the county government needed the large room. The Goodhue County Historical Society started its Oral History Program in 1967 in an effort to record the personal stories of county residents. The Goodhue County Historical Society moved to its current Civic Center Park/College Hill site in 1966. The current exhibit wing was initially a free-standing building that housed the museum until 1993. It was once the Baptist Old People’s Home building, and was used as a residence hall for the City Hospital employees. Planning for a new addition began in 1984, and the addition was completed in 1993.

The now vacant three-story brick building on the museum grounds housed the City Hospital, then the Friedrich City Center with a non-profit nursery school, the Red Wing Arts Association, and the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center all under one roof. The Agricultural Exhibit room, together with the storage space beneath it, was a separate building used as the laundry and power station for the City Hospital, with an attached wood frame house and garage, known collectively as “the annex,” and used for storage and agricultural exhibits. The auxiliary wood frame structures were demolished prior to the 1993 expansion, allowing for a wing to connect the exhibit wing to the old laundry facility. Another prominent feature of Civic Center Park surrounding the museum—owned by the City of Red Wing—is the sacred burial mound located near the northern bluff.

The Goodhue County Historical Society collection has grown since it began gathering two and three-dimensional items. The permanent collection has expanded to include numerous two and three-dimensional items representing every decade of the county’s modern corporate, cultural, and biographical history, with highlights like rare examples of pottery from the Woodland and Mississippian archaeological eras, to stoneware and terracotta from the Red Wing pottery companies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Our collections offer an encyclopedic range of materials that tell the stories of Goodhue County. Three-dimensional materials alone comprise over 18,000 items spanning 12,000 years of history. For more information about our three-dimensional material culture collection, please visit our here.

For more information about archival collections and research materials, please visit our Library & Archives Holdings  page. We strive to make our collections accessible to the public. A portion of our photographic collections are digitized and available through Minnesota Reflections, an online database of digitized original materials shared by cultural heritage organizations. These photographs include images of agriculture, industry, sports, military, schools, parks, homes, river scenes, and early street scenes from the Reinhold J. Kosec collection.