The Isanti County Historical Society is sorting salvaged items and considering what to do next after an arson fire last summer destroyed its building.
by BRYNA GODAR , Star Tribunehttp://www.startribune.com/local/north/142122333.html
Eight months after history turned to smoke and ashes in an arson fire at the Isanti County Historical Society, the organization is contemplating its future -- not whether it will have one, but the directions it will take.
The Cambridge fire consumed about 70 percent of the society's archives and all of the building's interior, and the staff now is working in a two-room suite provided by the county, sifting through damaged documents and artifacts.
"We're kind of reassessing the traditional model of how a historical society operates," said Kathy McCully, executive director of ICHS. As staff members evaluate whether to rebuild at the old location or move into a new building, they are also considering becoming fully digital or having virtual exhibits.
In January, staff began to reorganize and document the contents of 61 boxes of salvaged materials. After the fire and the resulting hose-down, wet documents that had not succumbed to the flames were freeze-dried to prevent mold. The documents returned in mid-December, without mold, but were "very brittle." McCully said the lifespan of the paper has been compromised by the fire, smoke, water and chemicals.
The society plans to encapsulate some of the documents, placing them between two sheets of film so people can still handle them without touching the actual paper. In addition, all of the documents will be scanned to preserve them digitally, a step that had not been taken before.
Another storage unit houses about two dozen big tubs of hand-dried items that will need to be inventoried, cleaned, refiled, and organized.
"This is a huge undertaking," McCully said. "We're all very tired, we're trying to take it all in little steps because it's so overwhelming."
She expects it will be at least another year and a half before they can move into a new building.
It will be a slow rebuilding process. The fire claimed photographs, scrapbooks, phone records. "We lost tons of oral history - taped interviews and the transcriptions," McCully said. "They're a one-of-a-kind thing."
The society isn't currently accepting historical items, but received many calls after the fire and thousands of dollars in donations. It also received a $7,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to help with recovery efforts.
McCully said the society is going to become more proactive about collecting records, making copies of documents that people want to keep. "Generally people bring things to historical societies; we'd like to become more proactive about seeking it out," she said. "Our mission is to preserve the history of Isanti County."Bryna Godar is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.